International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Tucson Refugee Voices: IRC Case Manager Meheria Maleh

I was a 5th grader in Afghanistan when my teacher came to our class and told us the news that the Taliban had taken over the capital and today would be our last day at school. I remember that my classmates and I arranged chairs in a circle and held each other’s hands. I remember kissing the blackboard and touching the walls, knowing that I would not be allowed inside this room again.

The year was 1995. The Taliban prohibited women from leaving the home. No school. No employment. My mother could not bear that I would grow up uneducated. She tried enrolling me in a home school, but it was closed when discovered by the Taliban. Teachers and students were punished by soldiers for attending. My mom, sister and I fled Afghanistan and immigrated to Pakistan in search of a better life.

Life was not easy in Pakistan. But with help from the IRC, I was able to go back to school, learn English and take computer classes. My mom worked hard day and night to offer me a better future, and after 5 years we received a call from an immigration officer who informed us that we would be leaving for the USA. I remember we cried together. We were sad to leave friends and family behind, but so happy to finally be in a country that values and respects women. We were happy for more opportunities and freedoms.

We arrived in Tucson in August 2001. Flying over the desert, my mom anxiously said, “Oh my god - they are going to put us in tents! I don’t see any buildings or houses.” After landing our anxiety was lessened. As we were greeted by our case worker and an Afghani friend, we felt at home.

Adjusting to life here was very hard. The culture was so different. School was the hardest. I was 17 and I didn’t know anybody. There weren’t many other refugee kids in school with me. I didn’t have any friends and I felt very lonely. It took me 3 months to feel comfortable at school, and by the next year I was ready to start helping others.

I became an interpreter for the IRC in Tucson in 2002, and later started volunteering to help other refugees. My biggest gain from working at the IRC is the smiling faces of our clients. I know there are times I have to deliver bad news, but I understand their feelings and frustrations – I have been in their shoes once.

Meheria was hired in February 2010 as IRC’s Extended Services Case Manager. She works with families who have the most difficult time adjusting, and assists them in overcoming barriers to starting over. During her first year, she has supported more than 200 refugee families in their journey from harm to home.