Westporters should reach out to Afghan refugees


Westport is not the real world.

Across most of the planet, people don’t live in homes with cathedral ceilings, swimming pools, and four-car garages filled with Range Rovers. Unlike billions of human beings, we fall asleep with secure roofs over our heads, multiple fridges overflowing with food, and all the water we need.

This is not the case a few miles from Bridgeport. Some of us are uncomfortable that such a needy city, with so many underserved residents, is nearby. Others are doing all they can to help. They write checks, volunteer at the Mercy Learning Center, and create opportunities like the wonderful Adam J. Lewis Academy.

The world of the “real world” may seem more distant. It’s easy to click away from a story about war, chaos, and refugees in a faraway land we can’t find on a map and will never visit. It’s a lot easier to read about the latest celebrity snap, home decor trend, or the Netflix show.

But Westport also has a history of engagement beyond our borders. We brought Bosnian refugees here. We have helped Syrian families to relocate to the region. Our help has been financial, material and emotional. All are important.

The latest crisis is unfolding in Afghanistan. We can indefinitely discuss the reasons for our involvement, the rationale for staying 20 years and how we left. But these are the privileges of a free society. They will not solve the problem of the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who literally fear for their lives. And who also literally have nowhere to go.

John McGeehan has experience with refugees. Six years ago, the Syrian crisis motivated the longtime Westporter to help lead a coalition of churches, synagogues and mosques to resettle a family in Norwalk.

Integrated services for refugees and immigrants – a statewide network – provided much of the organizational muscle. They work with local communities to find accommodation with nearby public transport. IRIS offers language training, cultural assistance, help with women’s issues, school assimilation and more.

The cost of the first year of about $ 20,000 per family comes mainly from local citizens. They donate checks, clothes and small appliances. They give rides, tips and shoulders to lean on.

This number for a family is intimidating. But Connecticut is preparing to welcome more than 700 refugees next year, including 300 until November. How will we do it? With care and attention, one family at a time.

Housing costs and the lack of public transportation make Westport a less than ideal relocation option. But as IRIS prepares to welcome an Afghan family to East Norwalk, the Westporters are mobilizing.

McGeehan reached out to the Westport Rotary Club, whose work to improve lives around the world spans decades, and individuals like Robin Tauck, member of the global travel company and human rights advocate. A coalition of religious institutions – United Methodist Church, Temple Israel, Greens Farms and Saugatuck Congregational, and the Religious Society of Friends, as well as 15 Muslim families in Westport – have organized a collection of needed items.

On the weekends of September 25-26, October 2-3, 9-10, and 15-16, Greens Farms Congregational Church will accept deposits of Winter Coats (boxed and labeled), raincoats and boots for adults, teens and children; school supplies and backpacks; new toiletries; cleaning and household products, and small household appliances. Furniture and other clothing is not necessary.

This voluntary effort is vital. It will change the life of an Afghan family. Hopefully, Westporters’ involvement in this resettlement effort will trickle outward and impact others. Fortunately, this is not the only initiative that local residents are involved in.

Westport lawyer Sam Leaf helps a Connecticut man save his family from the Taliban. He was granted asylum here, after being kidnapped and tortured because of his ties to American companies. But his relatives are in great danger.

Leaf and Stamford’s attorney, Jennifer Williams, files “humanitarian” parole applications with the Customs and Immigration Service on behalf of many family members. They work pro bono, but each deposit fee is $ 575. Once the family is there much more help will be needed. A GoFundMe page has been launched. Click on GoFundMe.com and enter “Samuel Leaf” in the search box.

Sam Goodgame, a 2007 Staples High School Class (and West Point Military Academy) graduate, also helps. He served in Afghanistan and his fianc̩e is an Afghan-American. He works to bring the family of a friend from West Point Рan Afghan immigrant who became the first female Howitzer platoon leader in history Рto the United States. To contribute, click https://givebutter.com/iFgcD3.

Three local efforts will not solve the Afghan humanitarian crisis. But for the three families hoping for a new life in America – or, more fundamentally, a chance to live – our city is the most important place in the world.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog’s World” appears every Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected] His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.

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