Home away from home!

Story written thanks to the help of LSSNCA Job Developer, Rahela Rezaie

When she was 17 years old, Rahela left her home in Afghanistan for the United States, driven by her goal to be among her family’s first generation of women to graduate high school. With the assistance of a scholarship, she completed high school in Vermont, and in 2016 she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Saint Michael’s College.

Rahela, who is the youngest of five siblings, and her sister, who was also studying in Vermont, were away from their family for six years. Like many other international students, Rahela and her sister struggled with learning English, feeling homesick, and experiencing culture shock. However, despite all those challenges, Rahela was grateful to live in a safe place where she could continue her education. This goal did not seem possible when she was living in Afghanistan. As a schoolgirl, explosions happened near her school, her peers were kidnaped, the drinking water was often poisoned, and she and the other students risked having acid thrown on their faces on their way to and from school. Today, women are still fighting for basic rights and have many barriers to continue their education or work outside the home.

Rahela and her sister (left)

When Rahela was at school in Vermont, she felt a constant pull to return home to serve her people, but security was getting worse every day. Rahela heard tragic news about Afghanistan daily and her family even received a few threats. Rahela decided to stay in the United States to continue her pursuit of her educational goals, and while in college, she applied for asylum.

Rahela considers herself very fortunate in achieving higher education. “My mother and my aunts are illiterate, and all my female cousins got married at an early age and were not able to go to school due to the security situation in Afghanistan. Not every girl gets lucky enough like my sister and I to have education or work in the society!” Rahela is very grateful for the opportunities she had and works to help other women achieve this level of success. “I take my mother to ESL classes and I am helping her learn how to drive!”

In 2016, Rahela graduated from university and her parents joined their daughters in the United States. They applied for asylum, and the family was able to reunite in Northern Virginia following her graduation. When Rahela’s asylum case was approved, she came to Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA) for help. She was assigned a case manager and job developer named Lauren. Lauren helped with Rahela’s job search and she was able to find a temporary job with the Loudoun County Government after two months.  Rahela worked with Loudoun County for a year and then was in touch with her case manager to find a permanent job.

“I really liked what my case manager was doing, helping refugees and immigrants,” says Rahela. “As an immigrant, I also wanted to help and contribute to my community. I emailed Lauren and mentioned I would like to volunteer with LSSNCA. After a few days she replied and mentioned that LSS had an open position for a Job Developer. I applied and got the job!”

Rahela has been working with LSSNCA for two years. “I am very blessed and grateful to serve refugee and immigrant families. As a client I did not have an idea of the work and responsibilities of case managers and job developers, and all the help and support they must provide for each client. Now, I admire each individual I work with and can see how each one of them go above and beyond to serve refugees and immigrant populations.”

At LSSNCA, our clients and their self-sufficiency are our priority. We have the support of federal and state grants to provide initial support for newcomers to settle into their new communities. However, we rely on the assistance of individual, congregational, and foundational funding to help our clients thrive and reach full self-sufficiency. Programs and services like English as a Second Language (ESL), vocational training, financial literacy, driving classes, and childcare are often not covered by federal and state grants.

When reflecting on her experience and that of other Afghan women, Rahela said, “Afghan women are very strong, creative, and extremely talented. I believe they need our encouragement and support to reveal those inner talents.” There was no specific programing for women when Rahela was a LSSNCA client but this year, Rahela and her colleagues have initiated a program for Dari speaker women called Training for Employment and Adjustment (TEA) Club. “I believe TEA club is not only helping our clients to be self-sufficient but also will help them to discover their talents and abilities, set goals and strive to achieve those goals.”

Ultimately, Rahela has always wanted to return to Afghanistan and serve her people, but today she feels with her current job at LSSNCA she is helping her own people – last year, 94 percent of LSSNCA clients were refugees and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders from Afghanistan. Rahela has truly come full circle in her journey as an immigrant to the United States, now helping others in their resettlement journeys. Rahela believe that in this way LSSNCA has become a “home away from home.”

Give today to our Refugee and Immigrant Services program and catalyze more New Americans like Rahela to grow their unique skills and apply them to meaningful work in our communities. Thank you for being good neighbors and good friends, and for being a part of this national response to a more welcoming America.

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