The American Dream

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


A Refugee Story

Hello, my name is Sayed. I am thirty years old and married to my wife, Makai with three adorable children.

I worked for the US government in Afghanistan for eight good years under the US Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of State (DoS). My main duty for half of that period was to interpret for the security department, translate training materials for Afghan National Police (ANP) and help interpret in convoy run. I also assisted the Site Coordinators to run the support section by getting promoted to Maintenance Supervisor and later to Operation and Maintenance Manager. I served in a five-hundred man camp which later expanded to eight hundred.


Life, as we see in the media is not so easy in the war-torn and traditional countries. I remember being shot at in the convoy runs and even experienced RPG attack and threats at our camp while we all were on duty.

In mid-2012, we were laid off as DoD decided to shut down operations in our camp. The US decided to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by 2014. We were all exposed to the mercy of Taliban revenge. I had two choices to make; stay back and accept the risks and or make an attempt to save my family. 

Fortunately, my services and hard work paid off; the US government accepted our case and we selected California as our new home. We did go through and experienced a hard, risky long and stressful two year Visa process. But, we got lucky and now we are safe in our new home. However, many men and women who worked like me were not that lucky as some still undergo administrative processing in the Visa Program (SIV) and many have lost their lives waiting.  

Upon our arrival in Sacramento we experienced the unexpected; a warm welcome and greeting by the smiley faces of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services' (SFBFS) crew. Our children were given gifts and toys. Our luggage was carried in the vans and we forgot the tiredness of an almost ten hour flight. We were immediately escorted and taken to our new apartment which we still live in. Yes I admit we were hungry, but our fridge was filled with food and fruits. 

SFBFS had also arranged for us to have beds, furniture and even pots and pans; things a new family can't live without. In addition to, we were provided free transportation and given culture orientation classes. 

US culture was not something I was new to due to almost a decade of work with Americans; but it sure was new to my wife and kids. Everything was amazing; kind people, good weather, great place!

We were assisted in any way we could have possibly imagined by our assigned agency (SFBFS). They went out of their way to help us solve any problems we faced and not only for the 90 days which was required, but even now, almost two years since we moved in. My wife, my children and I won't forget this kindness. 

We did our part and continue to do so. As soon as our legal documentations were processed, I attempted to find a job and I succeeded. I now work for a huge Tech Company and have been promoted twice during my first year. My wife takes English  as a Second Language classes and plans to continue her studies. Our children are going to school and we practice good citizen morals. Are we 100% self-sufficient now? No. Like many other citizens, we are not. We again thank  the US government and Sacramento County for standing by their core values and helping us achieve one hundred percent self-sufficiency.

We dream the American dream. We now have a reliable car, a job and working to buy a house which will take countless effort.     

Afghanistan is where I come from and know the culture. War is not what our culture allows and encourages. It has been enforced on us for almost four decades now. I even personally remember getting in trouble for learning the English language during the brutal Taliban regime when I was just a kid. Now, the world knows where the Taliban comes from and who backs them up. I do not need to explain but all I can say is that it is definitely not an Afghan ideology and culture. 

I appreciate those who read, understand and care. 

Thank you US government. Thank you Sacramento County. Thank You SFBFS. Thank you American people! 




A Volunteer Experience with Refugee Resettlement

On June 24, 2016; I volunteered with Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services as part of Refugee Awareness Month.   The activity in which I participated was a Home Visit; this home visit was actually accompanying a new arrival refugee family to their first new apartment.  So I had the opportunity to be part of the first contact that the resettlement agency had with the family; the family arrived to Sacramento on June 23, 2016 at midnight; two staff members, Nemat and Rocio met the family at the airport.  Nemat shared with me that it took two hours to the family to be cleared by customs.  The family consists of a 40 year old mother and two daughters, 19 and 11 years old.  Nemat and Rocio took the family to a hotel as the apartment was not ready and the arrival time did not permit to have taken the family to their apartment. 

I met with Nemat and Rocio at their agency, from there, Nemat and I went to pick up the family at the hotel and took them to the agency to complete paperwork, to schedule appointments and to discuss the services that this agency would be providing.  Nemat and Rocio conducted the initial meeting with the family; Rocio facilitated this meeting and Nemat served as an interpreter; Rocio and Nemat were a great teamwork.  

Once the paperwork was completed, we proceed to take the family to their apartment in the Arden area; by the time we arrived to the apartment, Freddy, another member of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services was waiting for us with a truck full of furniture; and we all helped to bring the furniture inside.  The family was informed that the apartment would be furnished with basic items that were donated; the furniture consisted of three single beds, a dresser, dining table with four chairs, couch, two living room chairs; coffee table, lamps; the apartment was provided with stove and refrigerator.  In addition, the family received: blankets, sheets, towels, cookware etc.  I left once we finished bring all the furniture inside, and Rocio and the rest of the team stayed to help to set up the beds, assist to sign the lease agreement and to accompany the family grocery shopping. 

As I drove back to the office, I reminisced on this experience.  I could not avoid worrying for this family; perhaps it was my own countertransference, but I wondered if they would be safe; whether mom will find a job soon and be able to take care of her young girls.  At the same time I realized that this family left their own country seeking for a safe place to live; and I sincerely hope they will find a safe home in the U.S.; and with the assistance of the resettlement agency they will also be able to become self- sufficient.  

I commend Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and all the resettlement agencies for their amazing work in assisting refugees through the resettlement process; I know for experience how rewarding is to provide direct services to clients and I know how important is for the resettlement agencies to receive the support from RPB.  I wrote this brief summary to let everyone know just through one example the impact of collective work.     

Heriberto Camarena, Staff Service Analyst

California Department of Social Services

Refugee Programs Bureau


Refugee Resettlement Experience

My name is Phoebe Neuburger and I am a Global Studies student in my senior year at Whittier College in Los Angeles. Over the summer I was able to do an internship in adult education and refugee resettlement at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. This blog is the second in a short series of blogs that describes what I did and what I learned and how it all felt!

It was a privilege to spend part of my internship in Refugee Resettlement Services. Jan Ali and his wife Nikbakht arrived from Afghanistan with their 2 young daughters and their young son.  Soon after helping to set up their new apartment, I was invited to welcome them to the U.S. at Sacramento International Airport.

 In their new apartment I learned how to assemble bed railings. I helped in the set up effort by moving around large pieces of furniture, cleaning up the living room, and organizing the food pantry and fridge.  They seem like simple and sometimes frustrating everyday tasks but I learned the family would probably have been traveling for days and arrive exhausted and hungry. I wanted their new home to feel comfortable and cozy. I learned that a lot of things in (and outside of) their Sacramento home might feel new and strange. Things like electrical outlets, bus schedules and ice cube trays might require brief explanations. I checked the bathroom cupboards to make sure they had toothpaste and toilet paper and I learned that not every region in the world has access to these items.

New apartment for refugee family

New apartment for refugee family

 My father and I volunteered to help welcome Jan Ali and Nikbakht and their three children at Sacramento Airport. I enjoyed making welcome signs for the kids and the reward was a smile I saw on a tired little face. It was powerful to see a refugee family, still together and in one piece, arrive in the U.S. I learned that they had to leave everything behind in Afghanistan if they wanted to start a new and better life in the U.S.   I learned that for love of their family, this is what they maybe wanted most.     

Submitted Phoebe Neuburger, SFBFS intern