Adventures in Volunteering: Meeting Afghan Refugees

Since walking away from the working world, I’ve been dabbling in various volunteer efforts, including being a delivery driver for Meals on Wheels, and working with Catholic Charities on help for refugees, Afghan and otherwise.

Yesterday evening I took the light-rail train to the airport ($1.25 round trip for ‘honored citizens’) to greet a couple of Afghan families coming to live in Oregon and Washington.  Catholic Charities might have good motivations, but organization and communication isn’t their strong point.  I was told to meet the group on the “Second Floor” of the airport, “by the light rail station” (which is on the first floor.)  I wandered around, and asked the policeman where the welcoming groups met, but he didn’t know.  Finally, I connected via text with the group leader, and learned the group was on the opposite side of the airport.  I ran down the lobby, as I was now late, to discover that the plane was not arriving until 8 pm.

Even worse, while Catholic Charities had managed to get 4 greeters, Lutheran Family services had 11!  (CC was getting one family to set up, the Lutherans another.)  The Lutherans had a translator with them, but the Catholics had the translator driving the van to take the family to the motel they would stay at for a couple of days before they get moved to an apartment.  Which meant “our” translator was at short-term parking.

I talked to the woman leading the Catholic group, and gave her my thought that while they left Kabul with just a few things, at least someone in the family spoke English. I was thinking that the refugees were primarily translators who worked with the US military.  She corrected me, and let me know that while many of the refugees had a translator in the family, others were people who cooked or did other tasks at the bases, or had female members who taught school, and similar people who the Taliban looked upon as suspect.  I also looked at the signs held by the welcome committee, which had greetings in English and attempts at greetings in Dari (a form of Persian) and Pashto, the most common language in the country.  Oddly, there was also a man with two Danish flags standing with us.

The flight was from Minneapolis, where there is a transition camp where the refugees are taught some basics of living in the US (what the money looks like, for example) and eventually they came down the concourse. “Our” family was a man, about 30, with what I presume were his parents, wife (who looked older) and five children, none older than 14, four girls and a boy, the youngest maybe 5.  They were in western clothes. Our translator was still making his way over from short-term parking, so we waved and clapped and said hello, and the Afghans waved back…and then we stood and looked at each other for awhile.  With everyone wearing facemasks, even pantomime was limited. None of them spoke English beyond a few words. 

Meanwhile, the Lutheran group’s translator was chatting away with their family.  The man with the Danish flags ran up to a woman and hugged and kissed her…he wasn’t with us at all.

Eventually our translator came, and he arranged for us to go down to baggage claim.  They let me know that I was done with my part.   So I got on the train and rode home.

Since I am a ‘certified driver’ for the charity, I might get to meet them again. But I must say, given how well organized the Lutherans were, I’m thinking of converting.

2 thoughts on “Adventures in Volunteering: Meeting Afghan Refugees”

  1. Thank you, Tony. Good to know the families are beginning to leave the transition camp — our news in MN covered their arrival but I hadn’t heard much after that. And thank you for making me laugh!!!

    1. I was surprised to see that they had been in Minnesota. I figured someplace south- although why I figured that I don’t really know. Do you know where they were housed in Minnesota while they got their orientation?

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