Saints on the Shoreline Continue Refugee Resettlement Efforts
A local non-profit is picking up where it left off in 2018 by helping resettle another Afghan family seeking asylum from the violence and turmoil of their homeland. Saints on the Shoreline (SOS) was instrumental in a 2017-’18 effort to assist a refugee family of five who were escaping war in Afghanistan, and the organization is currently gearing up to do the same for another family that is expected to arrive in just a few weeks.
Resettlement Team Leader Farida Ahangri is just one of several dozen members of SOS working to make the soon arriving family feel as at home as possible. The organization members come from a cross section of faiths, politics, and people from all over the shoreline dedicated to a simple mission of service to others.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, the North Guilford Congregational Church, the Methodist Church of Clinton, and the Church of Latter Day Saints in Madison have all contributed money, time, and effort to ensure that at least one more family can find some peace and relief. SOS also works in conjunction with New Haven-based Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), which since the 1980s has been assisting refugee families in their transition to a new life in Connecticut.
According to Ahangri, these refugee families are forced into a whirlwind of confusion and uncertainty when the leave their homeland, but with empathy and hard work, can find a new home here on the shoreline. Ahangri said the family that was resettled in Clinton in 2018 has adapted well, finding employment and friends and even purchasing a home.
“When they left Afghanistan, they only had 24 hours to leave. They could not even say ‘Goodbye’ to their own parents,” said Ahangri.
The father of the family resettled in 2018, said the journey would not have been possible without SOS and their team of volunteers. He requested to remain anonymous out of fear for the safety of family still in Afghanistan,
“When we came here, we knew no one. All our friends and relatives were back in our home country,” he recalled. “We told no one that we were coming. On the long plane ride to the U.S., while our children slept, I spoke quietly with my wife. What were we going to do when we arrived? Where were we going to go? How would we make this work? When we came off the plane tired and anxious, we got through customs, and there were the people from SOS with a little board with all our names on it. And I knew right then that we were going to be okay.”
The recent withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan has only made the made refugee resettlement efforts more dire. That motivated the group to sponsor another family whose work for the U.S. government put them in danger of retaliation by the Taliban.
“Very soon within the next few weeks, we expect to have the family here. Our team is ready,” said Ahangri. “We are a very diverse group and really try and address the specific needs these families will have.”
Members state it is important to keep in mind that this isn’t a planned vacation; these families are fleeing for their lives, suffering trauma and fear that cannot be easily described. Navigating the language barriers, shopping, employment, legal, and education issues are just a few of the areas that SOS helps refugees navigate while they begin their transition.
Ahangri asks people to imagine if they and their family were compelled by forces beyond their control and were made to flee Madison and resettle in a far-off land such as Afghanistan. How would they survive? How would they protect and provide for their family? Who would they turn to?
“For every town, this is important, just out of a sense of humanity,” said Ahangri. “Just imagine your 8-year-old child being sold. There are so many horrible things happening there in Afghanistan. All of these families helped our government in some way, as a translator, driver—we have a responsibility to help them back. If we help them, we are not losing something for ourselves, we gain something. If we can just help one person, just one family, it truly makes a difference. We do the little things, and that is what matters. Just try and imagine your family in this situation—we really need to think this way. Just imagine having to give up everything and leave the only life you have. Not knowing anyone, and having to run for your life. It’s scary.”
Former resettlement team leader and SOS founder Jamie Polk said the organization is trying to put into practice the simple mission of kindness and compassion.
“I think the main thing [is] we...are looking to be activists and felt that we wanted to help and be actively involved in helping,” said Polk. “For myself, I didn’t want to be a protestor, I wanted to be an activist. When we have so much, we wanted to try and help those in need and pushed out of their home. So, I was searching for a way to make a difference. I stumbled upon IRIS and when I researched them and realized the amazing programs they offer, I wanted to be part of that. IRIS is unique in that there are not that many agencies that work with co-sponsors, so it was a great fit. We are all immigrants and we just felt the urge to help a family.”
According to Ahangri, residents can help with resettlement efforts in a number of ways.
“We had to organize ourselves according to what our volunteers do. We ask our volunteers what is their interest and proficiency. So we subdivided into sub-committees, so we have a health committee, an education committee, a transportation committee, so someone is sharing all of the tasks,” said Ahangri. “Those with education background help with teaching English. We always need drivers who help with shopping and appointments. There are so many cultural aspects that we need to respect as well. We have to make sure everything is appropriate as far as culture and religion. But we are very excited to be helping with this next family.”
SOS will host a fundraising soup sale on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, at the North Guilford Congregational Church from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. There will be more than a dozen varieties of soup from $10 to $12 a quart.
Anyone wishing to make a donation, volunteer, or find more information about SOS can contact the organization via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via social media at www.facebook.com/saintsontheshoreline.