Project HEARD Hero

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, formerly FIRN. 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.

May 6, 2022 Update

  • This week, we are beyond grateful to Brown Memorial Church for hosting an Eid celebration for 18 Afghan families living in Baltimore. The beautiful event included dinner catered from The Helmand restaurant in Baltimore City. The food was delicious, and everyone especially loved the fernini, a rice pudding dessert with cardamom and pistachio. The women in attendance created henna designs and the children received Eidi, which is a gift given to children by their elders during the Eid celebration. It was so special to see everyone sitting together and celebrating, and a huge thanks to the volunteers who led activities and games for the children. Check out the great photos from Eid below!

    On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Afghan Alliance volunteers helped organize and distribute toiletries and feminine hygiene products donated by St. Francis Neighborhood Center, baby supplies donated by The Jewish Federation of Howard County including items such as diapers, clothes, rash cream, wipes, and toys. With the help of volunteers, we also held a clothing distribution event at the Afghan Welcome Center in Baltimore. Women and girls from 22 different families living in Baltimore were able to select culturally appropriate clothing from the donations.

    This week, Afghan Alliance continued with immigration consultations and resume writing sessions for our Afghan neighbors. Our staff and volunteers also continue efforts to support Afghan families with medical appointments, grocery shopping, and English classes.

    A special thank you to all our partners, sponsors, and volunteers for your generous help!

April 29, 2022 Update

  • Afghan Alliance programming has been moving full steam ahead this week as we coordinated donation distributions and transportation assistance from several volunteers. On Monday, we set up shop outside the Baltimore Welcome Center where families could pick up household items that they still needed to make their apartments feel like home. Families walked from their apartments with grocery carts to load up on kitchen supplies, blankets, towels, TVs, and more. Additionally, on Tuesday, several volunteers helped deliver baby kits to families with young children. The kits included baby clothes, diapers, wipes, toys, books, and clothes. This would not have been possible without the generous donation of supplies from the Jewish Federation of Howard County. Special thanks to all who contributed to these efforts.

    Marking the conclusion of Ramadan, Eid is an Islamic tradition which ends the month long fast. Taking place this weekend, families will come together to celebrate through prayer, festive meals, and gift giving. Henna is also a common practice by women during religious celebrations. To celebrate, we distributed henna to the Afghan women who were excited to decorate intricate patterns on their hands and feet in celebration of Eid. This would not have been possible without the fundraising efforts of our High School Afghan Alliance Volunteers. To learn more about the work of our High School volunteers, check out this article that was published by WAMU – “No One Else Is Doing It”: High School Students Fundraise For Afghan Refugees Living In Hotels

    Lastly, we want to send thanks to our awesome transportation volunteers who have supported several Afghan families with grocery shopping over the last three weeks. Without the help of volunteers, like you, we would not be successful in meeting the various needs of our new Afghan neighbors.

April 22, 2022 Update

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 just ten days ago. 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 Afghans 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

Sending a special thanks to the Afghan Alliance community for your continued support to families like Mohammed’s. We could not do this work without the help and dedication of our vast Afghan Alliance Network.

April 15, 2022 Update

  • Thanks to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Ellicott City who hosted Iftar for families staying at the Jessup Hotel last Friday. Iftar is a religious observance of Ramadan, where families gather to break their fast after sunset. Volunteers welcomed the families into the congregation by providing transportation, setting tables, and cooking traditional Afghan dishes. Upon their arrival, families sat together at large tables and awaited sunset before opening the evening with prayer and a snack. Following their snack of dates, mandarins, and water, the men and women split into two rooms where they conducted a longer prayer prior to eating dinner. Volunteers served the families a range of traditional dishes including samosas, nan, qabli, beryani, shoor nakhod, falafel, chapli kabob, ferini and mixed fruit, before joining them at the tables to eat with their new Afghan neighbors. The families were overjoyed to have such an elaborate celebration. Sending a special thanks to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Ellicott City for coordinating a wonderful event!

    Our resume workshops at the Baltimore Welcome Center have continued to be a remarkable success. For the past few weeks, volunteers have supported Afghan individuals in developing resumes, to help them advance in ongoing job searches. So far, nearly 60 resumes have been developed, and several clients have already found employment. Knowing how essential employment is, we are excited to announce that two Employment Specialists have joined the Luminus team to support Afghans in finding jobs.

April 8, 2022 Update

  • Programming for the week started on Saturday as volunteer drivers helped us bring families from the Jessup hotel to the BIG Baltimore Kite Fest at Patterson Park. The afternoon was filled with sunshine and smiles as children had the opportunity to make their own kites, while their parents took some time to relax, play frisbee, and explore the park.

    On Tuesday, a team of dedicated high school volunteers concluded their Coin Drive by distributing quarters and laundry detergent to the families staying in hotels. Raising over $1,000 across several high schools, we are so grateful for the initiative these volunteers have shown in supporting Afghan families in the community.

    As families continue to move into Baltimore City, volunteers met with jobseekers at the Afghan Welcome Center in Baltimore to develop resumes. Finding employment is a critical step to helping families settle into their new homes. Special thanks to the volunteers who have been helping with this process.

    The Luminus office was piled high with donations this week thanks to the generous work of several organizations. Project Linus of Howard County delivered 30, handmade blankets to be distributed to families in need. The blankets range in size, color, and pattern, but one thing is certain – they will provide a warm hug to those who receive them. Similarly, the Jewish Federation of Howard County donated two car loads of baby kits including everything from diapers to baby clothes and more. Lastly, Bolton Street Synagogue collected over $600 of donations to provide gift cards for the purchase of shoes. Sending a large thank you to Project Linus of Howard County, The Jewish Federation of Howard County, and Bolton Street Synagogue.

    In the News 

    The Afghan Alliance has been featured in two media outlets this week. Check out the articles below:

    Group of Refugees Resettling in Baltimore Region after Fleeing the Taliban Fox45 News – featuring Mariam Alimi with Luminus CEO Mike Mitchell and Anne Arundel Emergency Management Director Preeti Emrick

    Driven from Afghanistan by the Taliban takeover, refugees in Maryland ‘do our best to find our way’ Baltimore Sun – featuring Wali Zhadran

    Volunteers – Please continue to be on the lookout for emails with upcoming opportunities. Want to get involved? Sign up here to become a volunteer!

April 1, 2022 Update

  • This week, thanks to the Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County and Asylee Women’s Enterprise (A.W.E.), we were able to host a Women’s Group at the Columbia Welcome Center. Led by a social worker from A.W.E., we invited women who have been staying in the hotels to spend a few hours sharing, creating, and relaxing. The session included mindfulness exercises and art activities, while the women shared their dreams for the future.

    With incredible collaboration of Brown Memorial Church, Bet Am Synagogue, and Memorial Episcopal Church, English classes have begun for families living in Baltimore. Also this week in Baltimore, we held another resume writing and job search session as we work to support Afghans in finding employment.

    In addition to programs and events, the Afghan Alliance team works to help with individual needs. From providing interpretation for a family to complete the I-485 form to register for permanent residence to helping a family get a birth certificate for their newborn son, we have been supporting families in navigating life in the US. As always, a huge thanks to all the volunteers making this possible.

    Volunteers – Please continue to be on the lookout for emails with upcoming opportunities. Want to get involved? Sign up here to become a volunteer!

    Ramadan Kareem!

March 25, 2022 Update

  • This morning, an immigration attorney led a “Know Your Rights” presentation at the BWI Afghan Welcome Center. This important session was attended by over 40 Afghan families to better understand immigration law, what they should expect, and how they can be preparing for the future. Thanks to the Annapolis Immigration Justice Network for your support with this event.

    Our volunteers are as busy as ever with this week full of English classes, resume writing, transportation to pharmacies and grocery stores, apartment set-ups, Headstart applications, and more! Thank you to our volunteers for all you continue to do.

    Of course, none of this work would be possible without our donors! This week we are pleased to take a moment to thank them. On behalf of Luminus and the volunteers of the Afghan Alliance of Maryland, we thank all of you.

    Barbara Lawson Fund

    Community Foundation of Howard County

    EWE Spirit Foundation

    The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation

    The Jain Family Foundation

    The Reis Foundation

    Robert, Janice, Margot, Sara and Anne Watson Fund

    Susan and Steven Porter Family Fund

    Towson Presbyterian Church

    Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County

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March 18, 2022 Update

  • While we are seeing more and more Afghan families move out of the hotels, there are still many who remain in the hotels. The Afghan Alliance is ever-changing as we work to support all Afghan families. Our transportation volunteers are becoming even more crucial to make sure Afghan families can attend various events and access resources. Here is a highlight of what we have been up to this past week:

    Esperanza Center Health Clinic

    Our transportation volunteers braved the icy and snowy Saturday morning to bring 10 Afghans to the Esperanza Center for a health clinic. We are extremely grateful for the Esperanza Center’s partnership and the volunteer doctors and interpreters who are ensuring families have access to medical care. Another thanks to Memorial Episcopal Church for providing a hot halal lunch and supply kits for each patient!

    Shopping trip

    With generous donation of gift cards from Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance (ERICA) as well the help of a team of drivers and shoppers, numerous Afghan families were able to go to Burlington to purchase household items and new clothes. With many families settling into apartments, basics such as dishware and cookware are now needed. If you would like to donate gift cards, or help with shopping, please get in touch with us.

    Haircuts

    On Sunday, March 13, the Columbia Afghan Welcome Center was transformed into a hair salon! Afghan men, women, girls and boys received haircuts thanks to four stylists from Studio 325 in Gambrills. A special thanks to Paul Lemle, who reached out to Jen Carter, owner of Studio 325, and our volunteer drivers for making this possible.

    After-school sessions

    The Columbia Afghan Welcome Center has drop-in hours – which offers Afghan students, younger siblings and parents a chance to do homework, relax, and play games. This week, the Howard County Library led activities during one of the sessions and everyone had a blast!

    Resume Writing

    Volunteers who met with jobseekers at the Columbia Afghan Welcome Center to create resumes. Having a resume is a critical first step in the process of finding employment, which will give more stability for the Afghan families. Thanks to the volunteers who have been helping with this process.

    School Enrollment

    HCPSS held another school enrollment session to ensure that all children in the Howard County hotels have access to education. Continuing their involvement, Dar Al-Taqwa hosted the event and coordinated clothing distribution.

    NPR shout out

    The housing quandary faced by Afghan refugee families was featured on NPR this week. Our Afghan Alliance Coordinator, Shakera Rahimi was interviewed, with a shout out to Luminus. Have a listen to this NPR Report on Afghan housing.

     

    Thank you for your continued support. We look forward to another great week, with a special celebration of the Afghan New Year, Nowruz.

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March 11, 2022 Update

  • This week has been another great one. Howard County Executive, Dr. Calvin Ball joined us as we opened the Columbia Afghan Welcome Center, and it is already being put to good use. This space will hold English classes, after school activities and homework help, donations, distributions and more. Howard County Public School System used the space as they partnered with The Neediest Kids Program to do clothing distribution for all the families yesterday.

    For Afghan families at the BWI hotels, our English classes continue throughout the week. On Saturday, we had an awesome group of volunteers that brought families to a nearby park. The sunny afternoon was full of playing (basketball, soccer, guitar, and tag!), swinging, blowing bubbles, and laughing. One of the moms shared photos she had taken and told us, “It was a really beautiful day, everyone was happy and smiling.”

    We are grateful to all the individuals, organizations and communities who have been spending countless hours to support our new Afghan neighbors. From providing direct services and donations to advocating for Afghan families, we recognize and thank you all for your contributions.

    • The Maryland Afghan Refugee Crisis Committee has been integral in supporting Afghan families for many months. They have coordinated visits with families, provided food donations, and have been helping families move. They have provided translations and made it possible to have Friday prayers at the BWI Afghan Welcome Center.
    • Dar Al-Taqwa Islamic Center continues to work tirelessly to support Afghan families in Howard County. They have provided donations, English classes, Quran teaching classes, and played a major role in ensuring that children were enrolled in school. The Dar Al-Taqwa community has also ensured that Afghan families have transportation for Friday prayers.
    • Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg has been a great resource, always available when there are families in need. From food delivery to gift cards for diapers and baby formula, they have gone above and beyond to provide for families.
    • We also want to thank the Al-Ramah School in Windsor Mill and the Anne Arundel County Office of Community Engagement for donating backpacks, school supplies, and games for families. The children and their parents were so happy to receive these supplies.

    As you can see, this is truly a group effort. These highlights are just a few of the many groups who are organizing in support of Afghan families. We know we have a lot more work to do and that we are only going to be able to do it together. We remain committed to providing long-term support to Afghan families. A huge thank you to all the groups and individuals supporting that goal.

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March 2, 2022 Update

  • We have had an extremely busy month since our Afghan Summit on February 6th and we are excited to let you know what we have been up to and what we have planned for March.

    Thanks to a partnership with the Office of Emergency Management in Anne Arundel County, we were able to create the Afghan Welcome Center as a pop-up space located near the hotels that provide housing for Afghan families. The Welcome Center has been put to good use in February with programs and events including:

    • Weekly English classes for women, men, and children
    • Resume writing workshops and job fairs
    • School enrollment
    • Jummah (Friday) Prayers
    • Donation distribution – toys, coats, and more
    • Meetings for volunteers on housing and legal services

    We are happy to announce we have opened an Afghan Welcome Center in Howard County and are excited to provide a space for these needed services in Howard County as well.

    With the help of dedicated volunteers, we have been able to meet with Afghan families to identify needs. The top priorities include safe housing, employment, school enrollment, obtaining a driver’s license, and legal services. Not surprisingly, medical care has been one of the most urgent needs expressed by the Afghan families. In collaboration with Esperanza Center, a part of Catholic Charities in Baltimore, we were able to coordinate a day-long health clinic held on February 12. Memorial Episcopal Church provided a hot Halal lunch and snacks as well as supply kits for each person. Skilled childcare was provided on site by the Children’s Disaster Services of the Church of the Brethren.

    Afghan families in Maryland have experienced an outpouring of support from a broad array of regional government agencies, interfaith communities, and individual volunteers in these past weeks. This warm welcome for our newest neighbors is so very important and appreciated.

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  • On February 6th, we welcomed nearly 300 people at the virtual Afghan Summit hosted by United Nations Association of the National Capital Area Chapter and Luminus Network for New Americans. At this summit, attendees got an introduction to inclusion and Afghan cultural competency, as well as heard firsthand about the current and future needs of recently arrived Afghans in Maryland.

What We Know:

    • In July of 2021, Maryland was 5th among states in receiving Afghan arrivals.
    • 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.