Story by Olivia Sullivan ’20, Photos by Olivia Sullivan ’20 and Naomi Delkamiller ’21
This semester, Project Welcome is sponsoring a refugee family from Kabul, Afghanistan.
“We try to help at least two families a year,” Mrs. Katy Salzman, Project Welcome club moderator and social studies teacher, said. “I’m really glad to have a family this year. The U.S. State Department decides every year how many refugees they are going to accept. This year they approved 18,000.”
The main task that the Project Welcome students from both Marian and Creighton Prep undertake is setting up the apartment for the families arriving. They also collect donations of items needed, such as grocery store gift cards, light bulbs and school supplies.
On Oct. 22, club members set up their apartment, filling it with all of the necessities. Senior Chrissy Gulseth helped this year and has in the past.
“You have to think about the food they would want to eat and the things they would want in their house, not what you would want,” Gulseth said.
The family of eight consists of parents, a 19-year-old son, 18-year-old twins (son and daughter), a 15-year-old son, a 10-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. Some of the children studied English in school, but the parents do not speak any.
“They’re part of a program where they helped our troops over there and we’ve given them assurances that if they are ever in any danger, we will help them get out of the country. It’s very dangerous work because of the Taliban threat,” Salzman said.
On Oct. 24, the family arrived in Omaha. Salzman and Marian girls met them at the airport holding welcoming signs. Also present was an interpreter and the family’s case manager.
“The resettlement agency here in Omaha designated by the U.S. government to accept refugees is Lutheran Family Services. They will provide a case worker that will be working with them for the next three months,” Salzman said.
“When they are accepted, they are given full rights to be here, working rights and basically everything except for citizenship. After five years, they get to become a citizen,” Salzman said.
Salzman explained that it is especially important for organizations to sponsor refugee families.
“They are only on public assistance for three months,” she said. This includes their rent being paid for their first three months here.
All refugees have to pay for their own plane ticket to America. They are given a payment plan, which helps them to develop credit, but it also puts them in debt when they arrive. Project Welcome relieves a great financial burden by being able to provide all the items needed to set up their apartment.
“Not speaking the language and being from a completely different culture, integration and assimilation will be very hard,” Salzman said.
Most refugees come from dangerous, traumatizing situations and struggle adjusting to a foreign country.
“I think it’s really important to help them once they get here so they can maintain that American Dream concept,” Gulseth said.
It’s a slow process, but “it’s so nice to see them when they are in a happy situation and self-sufficient,” Salzman said.
On Sept. 29, the Catholic Church celebrated World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Project Welcome recognizes a connection to the work they do and Catholic social teaching.
“Two of Marian’s core values, inspired by the Servants of Mary, are service and community,” Gulseth said. “I think it’s really important to build up people in your community, and I think refugees are some of the people who need it most.”