Resettling Afghan Refugees a Challenge at Times, says Williamstown HOST

Resettling Afghan Refugees a Challenge at Times, says Williamstown HOST

In December 2021, First Congregational Church Williamstown members and community members joined together to form a HOST team (Host Organization Support Team) through Jewish Family Service of Western MA, to support the resettlement of a family of Afghan evacuees. Prior to the family’s arrival, the HOST team members wisely established our own Guiding Principles and Values, which became a helpful document to guide us and others in our work and remind us about the importance of empathy for the refugee experience, listening to all family members, asking clarifying questions, respecting boundaries, understanding both traditional and evolving roles, and promoting self-reliance.
HOST team member roles focused on housing, health, employment, education, community connections, transportation, and coordination of all of these areas through too many emails, weekly meetings for the first six months, and then less frequent check-ins, online journal entries about our contacts with the family, appointments on the family’s online calendar, WhatsApp messages with the family, “after action forms” to keep the resettlement agency updated on the family, and meetings with other HOST teams in the Berkshires. Our HOST team mantra was “however, this may change,” which we challenged ourselves to say with a smile as we responded to the unknown details, the constantly changing details, and the forgotten details, which weren’t easily remembered amidst the whirlwind of responding to so many urgent needs while interfacing with so many bureaucratic systems, often without the interpreting assistance needed to facilitate clear communication with the family.  
The large family group that we are supporting is delightful, caring, and incredibly hospitable to visitors. After arriving in the U.S. in the fall of 2021, this family stayed for several months at a military base in Indiana, a few nights at a hotel in Springfield, a week at a house in Lee, and two months at a house in Williamstown, before moving into their current house in Pittsfield. What a relief it was for them to finally settle into their own home, even if the Berkshires did feel freezing cold to them. (After they routinely turned the heat up to 80 degrees in the winter, we laughed with them last summer when they complained about it being 80 degrees outside.)
This Pashto-speaking family has many needs because of their limited educational backgrounds, language barriers, the cultural, religious, and bureaucratic differences between Afghanistan and the U.S., and because each of the nine family members has their own specific needs, requests, and appointments. Together, we have enjoyed meaningful and entertaining moments as well as time-consuming, demanding, and intense experiences. Called together by the biblical and moral imperative to welcome the stranger, HOST team members, English tutors, and other volunteers have developed collaborative and caring relationships with the family and with each other, which is a gift to experience.  
After a year of intensive support, it is rewarding to remind ourselves and the family about everything we have accomplished together and how far they have progressed in their adjustment to life in the U.S. They recently managed to drop off two children at a new preschool without any assistance. One family member has learned to use a scanning app on the phone to share important documents with us. The family now drives themselves to Albany for shopping trips at halal markets and to Worcester for overnight visits with friends.  As for 2023, we are looking forward to supporting the family’s increasing ability to be self-reliant and transitioning from our HOST team roles to being friends, neighbors, and mentors.  


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Bridget Spann

Bridget Spann is the Outreach Community Organizer for First Congregational Church, Williamstown (MA) and member of Williamstown HOST Team.

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