Afghan refugee family finds support in Routt County
Dressed in matching colorful outfits, the 3-year-old twin girls are a bundle of energy, playing and bouncing around the living room with the joy of active preschoolers.
The twins wear matching flowered skirts and pink Minnie Mouse T-shirts with the words “Be Happy,” which is exactly how the Afghan refugee youngsters seem. Being free and happy is what their father, Ahmad, wants for his daughters. The family, including his wife, relocated to Routt County as refugees in early February through the assistance of the Sponsor Circle Program. Sponsor Circle is a relocation program that allows everyday Americans to bring Afghan refugees into their homes. Ahmad’s family was welcomed by Routt County residents Warren Luce and Valerie Davia.
Through Operation Allies Welcome, U.S. leaders and agencies have helped tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghan citizens safely relocate to protect those allies who worked on behalf of the U.S. in Afghanistan. Ahmad served for three years as an interpreter in military training schools.
Ahmad is one of many Afghan citizens who now has a bounty on his head after the Taliban took control in August 2021. The family is not releasing their names nor photos for its own safety and that of their family members in Afghanistan.
Colorado Refugee Services Program Integration Partnership Coordinator Meg Sagaria-Barritt said 2,067 Afghans have relocated to Colorado since late September. Of those, 90% settled in Adams, Arapahoe or Denver counties and 7% settled in the Colorado Springs area. She said an additional estimated 200 Afghans are expected to come to Colorado in the next several months and will be in need of placements.
Ahmad’s family was fortunate to leave the dangerous situation in Afghanistan because Ahmad worked for a large U.S. Department of Defense military contractor that was organized enough to help their workers flee, he said. Still, the family along with two other Afghan families evacuated secretly at 2 a.m. carrying only small backpacks. The Taliban let the group’s vehicle, filled largely with scared women and children, through seven checkpoints because the fighters were still celebrating their takeover, Ahmad said.
The family spent five months living in refugee housing or tents in Pakistan, Qatar and Fort Dix in New Jersey before making the connection with the local Sponsor Circle. The refugee family is staying currently with Luce and Davia in their large home about 20 minutes outside of Steamboat. The local Sponsor Circle requested a family with English and driving skills willing to live in a rural area. The only thing the Afghan family knew previously of the U.S. was names of large American cities.
In the more than two months they have lived here, the family has filled out stacks of paperwork. Ahmad, 33, a former employee at a private Afghan radio and television company, was happy to start a new job last week as a technician at a smart home company in Steamboat Springs.
The twins are attending preschool three days a week, and their mother is taking English classes four days a week through Colorado Mountain College and Integrated Community.
Asked how they like their preschool, one twin responded “good” and started to softly sing the ABC song she is learning. The girls also are fans of the Old Town Hot Springs pools, where they experienced their first time in a pool, said Davia, while bouncing a twin on her knees.
“We feel much support here, kindness. They have reshaped my life,” Ahmad said, calling Davia his “American mother.”
Ahmad expressed concerns for the future of his parents and siblings, including his sister, a nurse, and two brothers, both doctors, who fled to Pakistan and Kazakhstan. He remains extremely worried that women in Afghanistan are now not able to attend school after sixth grade.
He wishes Afghanistan could have the freedom of movement, justice, democracy, rights to vote and employment, and access to quality education that are available in the U.S.
Any community members who would like to help with the Afghan refugee family’s resettlement efforts can contact Routt County resident Valeria Davia at email@example.com.
Anyone who would like to sponsor another refugee family can visit SponsorCircles.org or learn more through the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Colorado Refugee Services Program at CDHS.colorado.gov/crsp, which is responsible for the statewide coordination of refugee resettlement.
“Women are so isolated in Afghanistan after the Taliban take over,” he said. “My biggest wish as a father is (my daughters) should have a quality education so they can be anything they want to be in life.”
He recalled some of the horrors of the Taliban rule, such as when the Taliban cut off fingers of some Afghan men whose digits were found stained in ink after voting in presidential elections.
“The saddest stories are still buried in my heart and in my mind,” Ahmad said.
He said the years that the U.S. helped keep the Taliban at bay was a positive time, as he and his siblings could study medicine.
Davia said helping the refugee family has increased her gratitude for the freedoms of American women and her appreciation of the struggles of people in oppressed countries.
“I’ll never take anything for granted in my life,” Davia said. “I think I’ve always been a grateful person, but now I am even more so.”
While the Sponsor Circle members and other friends have helped the refugee family through many hurdles, the last remaining struggle has been finding affordable housing along city bus routes. The family plans to stay in Steamboat Springs for at least one year. While working, Ahmad may continue his studies, perhaps enrolling in the cybersecurity program at Colorado Northwestern Community College.
His wife, an accomplished cook and seamstress, was delighted by a recent gift of a sewing machine from the Steamboat Springs Ski Town Lions Club. While she is studying English, she contemplates becoming a hair dresser or a nursing assistant. Ahmad said his wife had previously never left Kabul, and “now she sees too many opportunities.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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