St. C's Refugee Family: How Are They Doing?
Shared by Lois Herrmann
A loving partnership continues between St. C's and our Afghan refugee family, the Khwaja's, a year-and-a half into their new life in America. Family members have responded, each in their own way, to the daunting challenges of adjusting to a very different culture and to finding their paths in our busy city. They have been especially strengthened by their bonds of family love, and by a lot of help from their friends at St. Columba's. Montgomery County programs and services – from wonderful schools to English classes to summer camps – have also factored importantly into their journey.
Viewing the family's progress, Jim Losey, co-chair of St. C's Refugee Response Ministry (RRM), said: "It hardly seems that it's only been 22 months since they arrived – exhausted but happy – at Dulles. They have truly come a long way. I feel that St. Columba's is richer since the Khwaja's entered our lives.”
Adjusting to dramatic life change, of course, brings ups and downs. Dad Fridoon, a font of energy and good spirits, secured a job in his field of heating and air conditioning in June 2017, helped by the RRM's employment subcommittee (Alice Goodman, Susan Laing, Shelly Gehshan, Peggy Treadwell). Unfortunately he suffered the return of a serious back injury while on the job – which involved heavy lifting. As a result, he had to miss several weeks of work and when he returned to work, had to reduce his number of work hours.
Adrienne Clamp, Jean Ann Wright, and others took Fridoon to medical appointments as he made his way through a discouraging period. Based on the recommendations of his doctor and physical therapist, he left his HVAC job in September. Now, with the continued assistance of the employment subcommittee, Fridoon is looking for full-time employment in a field that does not involve heavy lifting. Meantime, he is working as a Lyft driver.
Mom Shakeba has worked hard at learning English and is still attending language classes at Montgomery College, where she has made friends. In an activity organized by Cindy Anderson, St. Columbans, two at a time, have been joining Shakeba for English conversation over tea at the Khwaja's Silver Spring apartment.
Shakeba is a gifted cook and, with help from Judith Kozlowski, has done occasional catering of Afghan meals. She also will pursue part-time work, possibly including housecleaning for older adults, so she can help the family make ends meet.
Fridoon and Shakeba, like parents everywhere, are focused on bright futures for their children. Their boys, Siddiq, Omer, and Usman, are prospering. All three have made great strides in mastering English, are doing extremely well in school, have impressed their teachers, and made friends. And they have demonstrated their prowess on the soccer field!
St. C’s made it possible for Usman to participate in a 10-week summer camp at his new school, North Chevy Chase Elementary. Siddiq in grade 11 and Omer in grade 9 at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, completed 20 hours of community service with St. Columba youth this summer (pictured at right), thanks to Keri Piester. They both have received babysitting certification as “Safe Sitters.” Siddiq has steady babysitting work, and Omer aims to dogsit and babysit.
Katherine Martin helped the family apply and qualify for a low-income rent program so they have been able to stay in their Montgomery County apartment when the rent was about to go up. But the cost of housing and other essentials in our area has prompted the RRM, based on assessments by the finance subcommittee (Gardell Gefke and Laura Hills), to continue partially subsidizing the family for a limited period of time.
Everyone in our parish who has met and interacted with the Khwaja family has found the experience deeply rewarding. Alice Goodman sums it up this way: “The Khwaja's are enthusiastic, curious and eager to learn. I feel fortunate for the opportunity to know the family, to learn from them, and to see the world through their eyes.”
To all the St. Columbans who have offered their financial help, their time, and their creativity to this project, the RRM sends warmest thanks for keeping alive the promise of America for a wonderfully deserving refugee family.
Volunteers are still needed to join Shakeba for English conversation, to help Fridoon with written English, and to offer employment ideas for Fridoon and Shakeba and weekend jobs for Siddiq and Omer.