Wednesday, June 29, 2022

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From Afghanistan to Branford: Sadats Supported by Branford Refugee Resettlement Volunteers

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Laila and Mosa Sadat fled Afghanistan in August of 2021. They arrived in Branford on March 31 to start a new life in America, supported by all-volunteer Branford Refugee Resettlement/Helping Families Settle (BRR/HFS) group, which worked with non-profit Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) to train and prepare for the couple's arrival. Shown here visiting BRR/HFS group leader Laura Noe's home in Branford on May 5, Laila holds a painting she made while the couple was temporarily housed at a military base in Virginia.

Pam Johnson/The Sound

Laila and Mosa Sadat fled Afghanistan in August of 2021. They arrived in Branford on March 31 to start a new life in America, supported by all-volunteer Branford Refugee Resettlement/Helping Families Settle (BRR/HFS) group, which worked with non-profit Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) to train and prepare for the couple's arrival. Shown here visiting BRR/HFS group leader Laura Noe's home in Branford on May 5, Laila holds a painting she made while the couple was temporarily housed at a military base in Virginia. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)

In the six weeks since they've arrived, Laila and Mosa Sadat are moving away from months of uncertainty to making a life in their new hometown of Branford. The couple arrived here on March 31 after a long journey which started with fleeing Afghanistan in August, 2021 as the Taliban took control.

Now, they're attending local classes to improve their English; sending Mosa, an artisan woodworker, off to his new job with high-end Branford construction company MN Reale; and looking forward to the birth of their first child, who will be born a US citizen and is expected in August.

The Sadats have been supported in their transition to America by the efforts of non-profit Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), which welcomes and assists refugee families invited by the federal government due to fleeing persecution or war. They arrived in Branford through the efforts of the all-volunteer Branford Refugee Resettlement/Helping Families Settle (BRR/HFS) group, led by Laura Noe. BRR/HFS members received hours of training from IRIS and worked for nearly a year to ready a home and network of support to build on the Sadats' future success here.

In an interview with Zip06/The Sound, Laila and Mosa shared the story of their recent lives and their deep appreciation for BRR/HFS and Noe.

Noe said the work is not done; as high housing costs and low affordable housing inventory has the group seeking a long-term, affordable rent; hopefully, about $800 per month, to allow the Sadats to remain in Branford. Currently, they are living on their own in a rental which is valued at over twice that rate, located in Short Beach. The couple also needs a reliable, affordable used car; of course, a donated car would be ideal. Anyone who can help is asked to email Noe at noemarketing@yahoo.com

Both will need to earn their driver's licenses and are scheduled to take the CT driver certification test at the end of the month. But, as Noe points out, "...the 50-page [test study] document is in English, and you cannot take your phone to translate. It's so frustrating."

Both Laila and Mosa speak several other languages and dialects, with Dari as their primary language. Noe thanks Shukria Habibi, a Dari translator, for language translation assistance in many instances, including helping with the driver instruction manual.  Habibi also accompanied Noe to collect the Sadats at the IRIS meeting location in New Haven from their arrival at LaGuardia Airport.

Laila, 29, has a Bachelors in Computer Science and would like to find a position where she can work from home. Mosa is just starting out in his work with Branford-based MN Reale and owner Matt Reale. Noe said Reale hired Mosa on the spot, after interviewing him on May 4; when Mosa's intricate woodworking skills, captured in dozens of images on his phone, spoke for itself.

Laila is also a talented artist who enjoys painting. A native Pashto speaker, Laila has a bit more English language experience than her husband, who is 27.  On May 5, Laila, with additional input from Mosa, provided many details to Zip06/The Sound during an English-speaking interview at Noe's home.

Coming to America

The Sadat's journey to Branford began over eight months ago due to Mosa's connection with non-profit Turquoise Mountain, which works to support artisans in Afghanistan, Myanmar, and the Middle East.

"It's a little hard because we didn't know what will happen to us. They just said 'Taliban is coming,' and Mosa received an email from Turquoise Mountain to just be ready; we will move from Afghanistan," said Laila, adding that, from the point of receiving that message, "...we were just looking at the phone to receive any news to go out from home."

Updates sent to their phone shared potential trips scheduled for the airport, peppered with warnings of areas of unsafe travel breaking out.

On August 24, 2021 the Sadats got the message that a safe road was open to get them to the Qatar Embassy in Afghanistan. They were told to leave their belongings behind; to have their phones fully charged and carry a fully-charged phone power bank. The were also told to bring one bag with one or two changes of clothes and enough water and food for up to three days. Once safely at the embassy, they were moved to an airport, said Laila.

"We were scared. We didn't know what would happen to us, where are we going? At first they told us maybe we go to [an] Arabic country, like Jordan; but we were not sure where we are going."

The couple waited at the airport one night; still not knowing their destination.

"All we knew is we are leaving Afghanistan," said Laila. "And then, the Army plane came and took us; and bring us to Qatar."

For three uncertain days, they stayed in a refugee camp set up at a U.S. airbase in Qatar. Then, they were moved to Macedonia, which was accepting refugees fleeing the crisis in Afghanistan. After arriving in Macedonia, Laila said they were still uncertain of where they would end up, although, "...they said, 'We want to keep you in a safe country for about one year.'"

Their stay in Macedonia lasted about two and half months, before being brought back to Qatar and set up in the U.S. Army refugee camp in Doha, the capital city of Qatar. Laila described their camp area as situated inside a garaged space which housed containers that had been converted to housing. Each container provided three beds per family. Laila and Mosa didn't really know what would happen next, but did have some hope that their next move would be to America.

"They say everyone which comes to this camp moves to the United States," said Laila. "[But] again, we are not sure we are coming here."

The couple waited, and wondered, for nearly four months.

"After that, they say, 'You will receive your clearance from U.S.A.,'" said Laila. "And then we understand we are coming here!"

Before meeting Mosa, Laila, who was born in Afghanistan and grew up in Iran, followed her father's wish and went back to study in Afghanistan, together with her sister; due to documentation limits Iran set for Afghanistan natives to study in Iran. She said coming to America had been one of her dreams.

"The U.S. was my favorite country," she said. "When I start college, it was my big ambition to start education in the United States. I wanted to come here and study."

From Doha, the Sadats were flown out of Qatar, arriving at a U.S. military base in Virginia on March 8, where they stayed until March 31. Their trip to Branford began that day with a flight from Virginia to La Guardia in New York, capped by a long drive from the airport in Queens to an IRIS location New Haven. There, Noe, Habibi and the Sadats all piled into Noe's tiny car, a "mini," for the drive to their new home in Branford.

Knowing they were weary from their long day of travel, "...Shukria and I walked Laila and Mosa through the house, connected them to Wi-Fi as they arrived with a phone, and left soon after," noted Noe, in a message sent out to the BRR/HFS group. "Just before leaving, Laila asked if we - Shukria and I - wanted a cup of tea! This couple is so warm and grateful!"

Leaving Family Behind, Finding CT Connections

The Sadats knew leaving Afghanistan would also mean leaving family, which was very difficult for them and magnified by the Taliban taking control of the country (as of August 15, 2021). While the Sadats can speak with their family members by phone, it doesn't help defray fears for them. Their family members remain in Kabul, Afghanistan.

"We are worried about our family, what will happen to them," said Laila.

With assistance from IRIS, humanitarian parole applications have been submitted for Laila's brother and sister, and Mosa's brother and mother, with "the hope and intent of bringing them here," Noe noted. "It is a protracted and bureaucratic process, but action was taken."

Laila and Mosa are among nine artisan families which Turquoise Mountain worked to safely evacuate from Afghanistan. Eight of the families have now relocated to areas of Connecticut. One is waiting for the health of a family member to improve before leaving Qatar. During the holiday of Ramadan, the Sadats visited two of the families, now living in South Windsor and West Hartford.

The Kindness of Strangers

"When we came here, we didn't imagine the U.S. people would be such kind people like Miss Laura and others," said Laila. "They are really kind and nice people."

Noe noted BRR/HFS is comprised of 50 volunteers, mainly all Branford residents, working among 17 committees. BRR/HFS members not only worked to raise funds, donations and meet many other needs in preparation for the couple's arrival, but have also pitched in to help in the weeks since the Sadats have arrived.

"They've driven them to school, to the grocery store, to doctors' visits, to prenatal appointments; they've shown them around town," said Noe.

Laila said American stores are vastly different from the multitude of small shops and marketplaces she and her husband frequented in Afghanistan.

"It's different because in Afghanistan we have groceries everywhere; small [shops] are near and we can walk," said Laila. "But now we live in Short Beach and the groceries are [far] away; we can't walk. There's just one big [store], and you drive."

There's also an exceptional amount of sticker shock for the couple.

"Going to buy something, they are all so expensive," said Laila. "Afghanistan [goods are] so cheap – everything. But here is not. And the rent of the house is very expensive."

"Branford is a lovely town, but it's expensive to live here," added Noe. "We need to find affordable housing for them. The second thing we need to find them is a used car. Right now, the used car inventory is low and used cars are high-priced."

The small Short Beach home in which BRR/HFS has situated the couple has a rental price tag of $1750 per month, according to Noe.

"As a group, we struggled to find them housing," said Noe. "And the last thing we wanted to do was to find them an Airbnb or something else that would be temporary. They had been journeying for so long, and Laila is expecting -- we didn't want them to have to hop around.  At the last minute, we found this little cottage in Short Beach, on the bus line, which was one of the requirements IRIS had for them."

The Sadats love the fact that there is a little yard outside their cottage, and have already started a garden. Laila said the house seems quite large, and quite empty, with just the two of them. In Afghanistan, they shared a two-story home with Laila's brother and his wife and children. Before marrying Laila, Mosa lived with his three brothers and his father in one house.

"We are used to being [with] family, at least five people, living together," said Laila. "Here our first night, we were scared! We were just looking at each other, [saying] 'What we should do with this big house?' We didn't know how to live here. There was no noise from children, or the others. We [felt] alone -- it was very hard for us."

To finally have the Sadats in Branford, after so many months of effort and preparation to assist, is a remarkable experience for all involved, said Noe.  While BRR/HFS will continue to assist, including plans for a baby shower after the baby arrives; as well as setting up a CHET college fund for the Sadats' child, the goal is to help get the couple on their feet so they can succeed here, on their own.

"One of the things that IRIS taught us in training is you want them to arrive; but you are not adopting them," said Noe. "You are here to help them 'struggle well.' It's like raising a child. It's roots and wings. You help them, and then you release."


Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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