The American dream; it was a driving force and what led Nematullah and his young family to the United States. That, coupled with the fact that he was forced out of his homeland of Afghanistan due to persecution.
When Nematullah first arrived at the Sacramento airport with his wife, Khatera, and two young daughters, Hadia (meaning gift), age two and Zuhal (meaning Saturn planet), age four, he didn’t know what to expect. “I was worried no one would be there to greet us; we wouldn’t know where to go,” remembers Nematullah. “But Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) was there. A large group of smiling faces greeted us and gave me hope. I didn’t feel alone anymore.” After being escorted to his new place of residence, reality began to set in. “I felt a huge sense of culture shock,” describes Nematullah. “While I was being introduced to a variety of different services through SFBFS, I felt cut off from my family back home. It was hard. My daughters expressed their want to go back home, but I knew I had to press on and make a life here in Sacramento for my family.”
After only two months of arriving in Sacramento, Nematullah began volunteering at SFBFS, the very organization that gave him and his family their new start in the US. “I had an overwhelming sense of needing to give back,” remembers Nematullah. Even though he himself was still new to the US and had many hurdles of his own to climb, Nematullah selflessly gave his time to help out in SFBFS’ Refugee Resettlement Services. “Nematullah was a huge help,” recalls Rocio, SFBFS’ Refugee Resettlement Manager. He helped connect clients with resources, notified them about free phone eligibility, helped guide them through social security applications and more.” A huge advantage? He spoke the language; many in fact. Nematullah speaks Dari, Pashto, Uzbek and Farsi; languages commonly spoken in both Afghanistan and Iran.
All newly arriving refugees going through SFBFS’ Refugee Resettlement Services are required to participate in a 4-week long cultural orientation course. Nematullah was instrumental in supporting new refugees on their journey towards becoming US citizen. “I think it’s easier hearing it from someone who has been in your shoes and can speak to you in your native language,” explains Nematullah. “I just want to give these refugees the same opportunities that were so generously afforded to me and my family through SFBFS.”
Now, almost two years after arriving in the US for the first time, Nematullah and his family can happily say that Sacramento is home. After volunteering with SFBFS for several months, Nematullah was offered a permanent position as SFBFS’ Refugee Resettlement Assistant. In his new role, Nematullah supports and tracks new refugee arrivals, attends airport pickups, approves and denies applications based on capacity and assists in apartment set ups with SFBFS’ volunteers and staff. He also serves as a Case Manager for families with extended case management needs.
Khatera and the children have also settled in nicely. Khatera enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses at SFBFS and his older girl is now attending school. While it may have taken baby steps to get where they are, it’s only the beginning. Nematullah has dreams to follow up on his education and pursue a Masters in Law while Khatera aspires to go to beauty school.
What advice might Nematullah give to newly arriving refugee families? “Expect challenges, but never give up. It will take time, but don’t be discouraged. The American dream is alive and well.”
Submitted by: Elise Hawkins