As a new year dawns, fertile ground has been planted for the resettlement of dozens of Afghan evacuees in the Merrimack Valley, Cape Ann and Greater Newburyport.
Early in the fall, Melissa Marrama of Andover was working to help coordinate the welcoming and support systems for some of the 150 Afghan evacuees expected to be resettled in the Merrimack Valley and Greater Lowell.
In November, a group of volunteers came together at the Unitarian Universalist Society in Rockport in person and livestreamed on Facebook to start planning — and raising money — for the arrival and eventual resettlement of Afghans.
In early December, The Rev. Manny Cumplido of West Newbury Congregational Church announced that a local couple had donated $25,000 to the local Neighborhood Support Team, a nondenominational group set up to help Afghan evacuees relocate to the area.
Also in December, members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newburyport welcome the first evacuees — a family of nine from Afghanistan who are now living in converted space in the church building on High Street.
St. Paul’s also just received word that a second family, with 10 members, will be arriving next week.
Following the lead of St. Paul’s the First Religious Society Unitarian Universalist in Newburyport is putting in a shower and clearing out part of a parish hall to welcome another Afghan family — this one with 11 members — to the city.
There are several umbrella organizations coordinating the resettlement of evacuees from Afghanistan to New England. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston has relocated dozens of Afghans in the Boston area. In our region, St. Paul’s is partnering with the International Institute of New England through a program called Operation Allies Welcome.
Marrama, the Andover woman, is also using her network through the Andover Islamic Center, where her husband, Faisal Ahmed, serves as president, to make sure any unaccompanied minors will be welcomed into homes that practice the same faith.
Marrama, who is a landlord, got involved seven years ago when she was asked to house a refugee family from Iraq. She placed the family in one of her rentals, drove them to English classes and helped them round up healthcare and get their children into local schools.
“It’s hard enough when you speak English to talk to schools when your child is having a bad day, never mind not speaking the language and not knowing what these kids have seen,” Marrama told reporter Madeline Hughes. “We need people to help them navigate the systems.”
The navigation is essential, but at this stage the churches who have stepped up are setting up temporary housing, helping get children enrolled in schools and assisting the families in getting settled in a strange new country.
The goal for every family is to help them find more permanent housing, to find employment, when appropriate, and to ensure family members have health care and schools for the younger ones.
Finding housing, especially for larger families like the first three coming to Newburyport, will be a big challenge. But the experience of various refugees from Iraq, Syria and now, Afghanistan, in Lowell, Cambridge and elsewhere has shown community members rise to the challenge with tremendous generosity, helping families get established, furnish their homes and become contributing members of their city or town where they live.
It’s the outpouring of support — and sustaining that help over time — is key to welcoming these Afghan evacuees to their new home in their new country.