Rebuilding Lives: Tzu Chi Northwest Aids Afghan Refugees

Northwest  |  December 29, 2022
Tzu Chi volunteers giving
Tzu Chi brought backpacks, sleeping bags, and warm jackets to Afghan refugees. Photo/Renee Liu

Written by CH Liu
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Fremont, California, has the largest Afghan-American population in the state. The Afghan Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in Fremont, has served the Afghan community for 27 years and has assisted countless refugees and immigrants transition to life in the U.S. 

Since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2021, nearly 80,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in the U.S. The influx of tens of thousands of refugees has dramatically increased the workload of humanitarian nonprofit organizations. Unfortunately, the Afghan Coalition ran out of funds several months ago due to the number of refugees and immigrants needing support. Overwhelmed by their workload, they contacted Tzu Chi USA in December 2022, hoping to receive assistance.

The Difficulties of Starting Over

Tzu Chi volunteers having briefing for the distribution
Tzu Chi volunteer C.H. Liu shared the backgrounds of refugees to other volunteers. Photo/ Renee Liu

Standing before the Afghan Coalition headquarters, Tzu Chi Northwest volunteer C.H. Liu informed fellow Tzu Chi volunteers about the case histories of the refugees they were assigned to assist. This distribution focused on the 20 new refugees the Afghan Coalition recently welcomed. Their refugee status documents were confiscated during their journey to the U.S., and they were in desperate need of help.

The Afghan Coalition helped them apply for driver’s licenses, social security numbers, Medicare, and other social services. But the wait time for many of these services was nearly a year. Unfortunately, this delay meant these refugees cannot work and earn money, making it difficult to start their new lives. As a result, some had no place to stay and slept on couches or in cars.

The Hard Road to Freedom

Tzu Chi distribution items for Afghan refugees
Tzu Chi also prepared toothpaste, toothbrushes, face wash, and other household items for 20 Afghan refugees. Photo/ Renee Liu
Afghan refugees telling their stories
Afghan refugees share their stories with the help of program manager, Seema Farhad. Photo/Renee Liu

Moved by their hardship, Tzu Chi Northwest volunteers brought large backpacks, sleeping bags, warm jackets, and bicycles to aid these refugees. The Afghan Coalition also prepared sweaters and suits.

Led by Seema Farhad, the program manager of the Afghan Coalition, the volunteers met with the refugees. Then, with Seema’s help in translating, they shared their stories.

A man in a gray tweed coat told how he worked for the former Afghan government’s national security team. After the fall of the capital Kabul, he was beaten and tortured by the Taliban. He left his family and two children in Baghdad, Iraq, and continued his flight to the United States.

Another Afghan refugee shared that he was a social activist. The Taliban threatened to kill him and his pregnant wife. Fortunately, he made it to the United States after numerous ordeals. Although the road ahead is still uncertain and challenging, he is grateful to the U.S. government for taking him in and to the organizations that have served as safe havens along the way.

Tzu Chi USA Northwest region CEO introducing Tzu Chi's background
Tzu Chi Northwest Region Executive Director Min-Jhing Hsieh introduced Tzu Chi to the refugees. Photo/ Renee Liu

Although you have just arrived in this country, I believe you will feel our support, and your lives will improve over time.

During the event, Tzu Chi Northwest Region Executive Director Min-Jhing Hsieh said, “The Master teaches Tzu Chi volunteers to be compassionate and to help people with their actions, which is the essence of Tzu Chi. Because we are all working for love and a better life, Tzu Chi will aid the Afghan Coalition in overcoming the many challenges we face in pursuit of our shared goal.”

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