Afghan Alliance of Maryland
Luminus was launched more than 40 years ago to welcome, embrace, and integrate people fleeing Vietnam. Today we face a similarly urgent call. With the evacuation of Afghanistan, the US military flew nearly 80,000 civilians out of Kabul, and of that, approximately 73,500 were either Afghans or other foreign nationals. Estimates suggest that eventually 95,000 Afghans will find their way to residency in the U.S. and need help from communities like ours, the Luminus Network for New Americans. Our mission meets this moment as it did four decades ago as it is certain that thousands of Afghans will arrive in Maryland.
How Can You Help
The Afghan Alliance of Maryland is made up of volunteers, donors, and advocates that catalyze direct and indirect support for arrivals. When you join, you will become a member of a network that shares information, develops social capital, and raises resources to support Afghan families. Our mission is to empower new Americans with agency so that they can support their own families and ultimately contribute to the fabric of American life.
What We Know:
- As of July 2021, Maryland received the 5th highest number of Afghan arrivals in the country.
- Afghan arrivals face systemic challenges beyond the material challenges they and their families already face.
- The nation’s resettlement and immigration systems were seriously damaged over the past four years, leaving little room to respond to a crisis like this one.
- Today’s legal protections and refugee infrastructure are weak and recent court decisions have undermined law.
- The patchwork of nonprofits and government agencies that used to coordinate and collaborate in challenges like this one have frayed resulting in a fragmented system where collaboration and coordination will be ever more difficult.
In 2022, Luminus launched a new English Conversation Partners Program to facilitate English acquisition for our Afghan neighbors. Interested individuals were paired with volunteers over the span of eight weeks to help improve their practical conversation skills.
Our wonderful Program Development Intern led an initial training for all the volunteers which outlined some of the guidelines of the program including being mindful of people’s boundaries when it comes to discussing certain topics such as past experiences, cultures, religions, or politics. More importantly, we discussed the importance of being flexible and patient with the participants as many of them only had a fundamental understanding of English. Because the participant’s level of English varied, the curriculum included conversation topics and activities for different proficiency levels.
Volunteers are continuing to meet their partners on a weekly basis and have the flexibility of deciding where to meet. Some pairs choose to meet outside at a park, go grocery shopping, cook together, or visit a library. This is a wonderful, mutually beneficial opportunity; our volunteers are able to interact directly with families and learn from them and their experiences while the families are able to receive the attentive support and care they need.
To help parents, volunteers have been guiding families through the process of school enrollment. Volunteers schedule the appointment with the school and then provide information to the parents on where to go and which documents to bring with them to enroll their children.
Luminus has held WIC Shopping Orientation for Afghan families in Baltimore. WIC is a federally funded program that provides healthy and nutritious food for pregnant women, new mothers, and mothers with children under the age of five. As many of the families are new to the WIC program, our volunteers helped the Afghan mothers shop and locate WIC-approved items in the grocery stores.
During the summer of 2022, we launched Project Safe Haven, an initiative to help Afghans and Ukrainians apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Our volunteers have also provided support to our Afghan neighbors in Baltimore City by helping families apply for a green card. Our team conducted immigration orientations and legal consultations for families who recently relocated to Prince George’s County.
The Luminus employment team helps Afghan job seekers prepare resumes and apply for positions. The next step will be to assist them with the interview preparation. Our team has enrolled Afghan men in Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) training that resulted in them finding jobs as truck drivers. Another Afghan man was able to retain a job in his field as an electrical engineer. Our team helped an Afghan woman, who was previously a nurse in Afghanistan, find employment at CVS as a pharmacy assistant.
Luminus has also led an Entry-Level Job Placement Orientation for Afghan families in English, Dari and Pashto at the Baltimore Welcome Center. The team started the presentation by giving a cultural orientation which included information on the history, values, and culture of the U.S. The second portion of the orientation provided an overview on the employment process from how to search for jobs, tailor resumes, and prepare for interviews. The presentation also covered topics such as wages and taxes, professions in demand, rights of employees, and dress code.
80% of our clients face significant transportation barriers. Many lack access to a car, public transportation, or a driver’s license, making it challenging for them to pursue work and self-sufficiency.
Luminus is hosting Permit Test Prep Classes for Afghan women in Baltimore City. Afghan women encounter several barriers to getting a license, including low literacy rates, limited access to childcare, and unreliable transportation. At Luminus, we’re dedicated to breaking down these obstacles by providing Dari and Pashto interpretation, coordinating activities for kids, and offering roundtrip transportation.
The classes have been a huge success! The Afghan women are thrilled about the prospect of driving and the independence it will bring to their lives. When they feel ready, Luminus plans to sponsor driver’s licenses and MVA-certified interpreters for most of them.
While many Afghan families share similar experiences of their journey to the US, no two stories are the same. Mohammed Aljery* and his wife arrived in the United States in April of 2022. At the Baltimore Afghan Welcome Center this week, we had the chance to speak with Mohammed, who shared part of his story with us.
Following the collapse of the Afghan government, Mohammed feared for the safety of his family, stating that “nothing felt normal in Afghanistan.” As a former Project Manager for several government-sponsored infrastructure development projects, Mohammed worried that he and his family would be targeted by Taliban forces taking control of Kabul. This led Mohammed to contact one of his former employers to find a way out of the country, which connected him to the United States Department of State.
“The Department of State coordinated our evacuation,” said Mohammed. “First, we were taken from Kabul to Islamabad, Pakistan where we stayed on a military base for about one week. From Islamabad, they took us to a base in Qatar.” For one month, Mohammed and his wife Aamaal* waited to learn of the next steps in their journey to safety. Their lives were filled with feelings of uncertainty, but they maintained hope that soon they would find a place to resettle without fear of persecution.
On April 12, 2022, Mohammed and Aamaal finally arrived in the United States. Being resettled through the International Rescue Committee, the pair stayed in a hotel before moving into their new apartment building in Baltimore – a building which now houses 37 recently resettled Afghan families. Situating themselves in their new home, Mohammed was able to connect with his fellow Afghans via an apartment group chat where he first learned about Luminus. Only eight days after his arrival in the US, Mohammed was in communication with Shakera, the Luminus Afghan Alliance Coordinator, who conducted a needs assessment, enrolled him in a resume writing workshop at our Baltimore Welcome Center, and arranged transportation to and from a grocery store in the area.
“I am excited and hopeful for the future. Everyone here has been so generous,” said Mohammed during our interview. When asked what he was excited for, he quickly responded, “The job opportunities. I want to be a Project Coordinator to better understand the responsibilities, standards, regulations, and expectations of the job here in the US.” Eventually, Mohammed hopes to become a Portfolio Manager, but he anticipates this will take about five to ten years.
“Everything is different here,” said Mohammed, “but I am relieved that my wife and I finally feel safe.”
*name has been changed to maintain confidentiality
Volunteer Spotlight: Aelia Thakkar
Aelia Thakkar is a senior at River Hill High School and has been volunteering with Luminus. Aelia, along with other Luminus volunteers, organized a coin drive across six high schools in Howard County earlier in the year. They were able to raise a total of $1,000 in quarters to help Afghan refugees purchase items, such as laundry detergent.
“It was a really fun community experience and aside from that it was really enlightening to get to talk to the refugees . . . they exposed us to a perspective that a lot of us have not seen in this country which is that people are able to be positive and to overcome their struggles . . It was one of the best experiences I have had at Luminus.” – Aelia