Published: October 22, 2021
Helping Those in Need: Welcoming Our Afghan Allies
During Blue Star Welcome Week 2021, we spent time welcoming military and Veteran families to their new communities across the country. Why? Because approximately 600,000 military-connected families move every single year, leaving service members, spouses, and their children to start over in unfamiliar towns without any network of support. While we were thrilled with the participation from coast to coast, our focus on moments of welcome left us thinking about a very important group of families that are also counting on their neighbors to show them kindness and support: recently resettled Afghan allies.
Nearly approximately 53,000 refugees from Afghanistan have temporarily resettled at U.S. military installations with limited knowledge of the language and culture, without many or any household items needed to make a home, and with great anxiety about what this transition will bring their family.
Tonya, a Navy spouse of 17 years and Blue Star Families’ Lockheed Martin National Capital Region DEPLOY Fellow, feels great empathy after facing many moves herself. “While it is by no means the same situation, my family has moved overseas to live in a country where we did not know the language or culture and had to learn a new way of living,” Tonya shared. “We had to adjust to the cultural differences that existed. It took time to learn the language and the day to day practices. In that learning period, I remember feeling so much anxiety and like I stood out everywhere I went. I imagine that for many Afghan families the feeling is the same, only it is amplified by knowing that this is not a temporary assignment and having left under such duress.”
Here at Blue Star Families, Tonya brings her empathetic capabilities to her work. As a military family member, Tonya has experienced, firsthand, the benefits of friendships that become informal mentorships — having people to call on for support when navigating the challenges of military life. That’s why, in her fellowship role, she’s on a mission to provide others, especially military families of color, with that same support, sharing the knowledge, compassion, and mentorship they need to thrive.
It only makes sense that Tonya would feel that same calling, to extend help and welcome to those in need, when Afghan allies began resettling near her home in the National Capital Region. “Personally, one of the most important parts of my work as a DEPLOY Fellow with Blue Star Families is to look for ways to support families of color in ways that are not simply checking a box, but are truly meaningful,” Tonya said. “Helping Afghan families relates directly to that work. I think we, as a community, have a responsibility to help all families in need. For me, it comes down to acknowledging that even as I sit at the intersection of a number of identities that have faced discrimination and worse, I still have an incredible amount of privilege. With that privilege comes the responsibility of using it to help others.”
Tonya went on to share, “I have always felt called to be a helper, to be a voice or amplifier for those who need support. Helping Afghan allies resettle is a small way that I can offer support and hopefully extend a feeling of welcome and lighten the burden for a family who is going through such a difficult challenge. These families have been through a traumatic experience leaving their homeland. The mental, emotional, and even physical toll of that is heavy. By welcoming them into their new communities, we can offer a place to begin healing and moving into what is next for them.”
Tonya hasn’t wasted any time doing just that. She connected with a group of local military spouses collecting donations—including personal items, clothes, and furniture—to start aiding Afghan families as quickly as they could. Tonya has spent a day sorting donations, getting everything ready for delivery to a community mosque. Most recently, she and her husband spent time setting up a home for an Afghan family. They moved in furniture, bedding, linens, and other items they will need to get settled. But Tonya doesn’t want to stop there. She’s actively engaging with Blue Star Families and other support groups to develop plans to continue to welcome Afghan families and provide needed support.
“I hope the Afghan families resettling here feel seen, welcomed, and a sense of belonging through the work that all of the volunteers are doing to help them as they begin to rebuild their lives,” Tonya said. “It is what we as military families want with each move, and while it is not at all the same thing, some part of us can identify with these families and their feelings as they transition to a new country.”
We know Tonya isn’t alone. In response to the Supporting Afghan Allies Pulse Check, military and Veteran families, particularly those who served in Afghanistan, reported looking for opportunities to help resettle Afghan allies to improve their well-being or mental health. What’s more, almost half (46%) of those who served in Afghanistan and over a third (35%) of all respondents have already taken action. Join Tonya and other military-connected family members lending a hand in providing a powerful message to Afghan refugees as they create a home here in the United States: “Welcome. I see you, and I’m here to support you.” Look for local grassroots volunteer organizations already making efforts to collect needed items gathering donations, providing supplementary support such as translation, mentorship, tutoring, and transportation, setting up a home, and so much more. Organizations like Welcome.US. With a mission to inspire, educate, and engage Americans to welcome and support Afghan refugees when they arrive and resettle, Welcome.US will provide a platform to connect the needs of refugees with support from the American people and identify specific ways Americans and organizations can help now.
Still unsure where to start? Join us on Tuesday, October 26th, 2021 as we bring together Veteran and military support organizations to answer your questions on the current state of resettlement efforts, the immediate needs of Afghan allies, and volunteer opportunities. Register for the event today!