By Elizabeth Meade Howard

Imagine fleeing your homeland with only what you can carry and not being able to say good-bye to family and loved ones. You arrive in a new country barely knowing the language, customs, or those around you. You need a home with furnishings and someone to guide you into a new life. This includes education for your children and employment for the adults. It can feel disorienting, overwhelming. How you are welcomed makes all the difference.

Volunteers get a home ready for clients to move in.

The IRC’s HOME Community Sponsor teams in Charlottesville and Waynesboro, Virginia have welcomed over 100 newly arrived refugees, mostly from Afghanistan, since November. Twenty of those refugees are now in Waynesboro. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has 5 HOME teams in Charlottesville, one in Staunton and one in Waynesboro. The Waynesboro team works closely with two other church teams to help all the town’s refugees. IRC HOME Teams, in addition to providing financial support in the form of a rental subsidy, serve as mentors to a specific refugee family for 6 months as they navigate their new community. Most immediately on arrival, HOME teams set up the family’s apartment with essential furnishings, household items, culturally appropriate groceries, and a hot meal to welcome them on their first night there.

Among those welcomed were Momand, an accountant, who fled from Kabul, Afghanistan in August with his wife Asma, and their two young daughters. “The hardest thing is leaving your parents, siblings, and friends with not saying goodbye to any of them,” he says. Momand arrived in Waynesboro with only his backpack carrying his laptop and education documents. Momand and his family were housed in two hotels and later moved to their own apartment.

“It was really a tough time when you don’t know the culture, people, environment, foods, and even don’t know the name of the city where you are moving and you will be living in this city for a long period of time,” says Momand. “And now it’s a true pleasure and honor to live in a community with the most considerate and genuine people.”

Waynesboro HOME team member Heather Harman stepped up. “Heather helped us from the beginning,” says Momand noting Heather’s assistance with everything from setting up a bank account to taking his family to Friday prayers, the children to the parks, or to stores to buy clothes or needed household items.

A HOME team volunteer setting up the bathroom before a newly arrived family moves in to the apartment.

Harman further took Momand to register his six-year-old for kindergarten and drove to the grocery store, the doctor for vaccinations, the dentist and pediatrician. ‘I do whatever is needed,” says Harman.

Her husband, also an accountant, has assisted Momand in driving lessons, looking for work and guiding him in the US taxation law and other accounting information. Momand hopes to complete his master's degree and get CPA certification as well as getting an education for his children.

On a trip to Walmart, Asma finally found particular pastry dough for “mantu,” Afghan beef dumplings. She later made extra servings for Heather’s family. “It was delicious. Yummy,” said Harman who invited the Afghan family for Christmas.

Heather recalls Asma’s reaction to the recent move to their own apartment: “I am so very happy,” she said.

“The rewards are in all of it,” says Harman. “You get to know people as they get acclimatized. It’s nice getting to know new people.”

HOME team volunteers set up the bedroom of an apartment before the refugee family moves in.

“When we arrived, it was a new environment and culture. Heather and others have been very kind. Now we feel safe, normal. We are fine; happy now,” says Momand. “I can’t thank Heather enough for everything she has done and the support she’s provided to my family. The IRC helped me a lot in terms of my new life.”

In return for mentoring he has received, Momand is working with other Afghan families who are living in Waynesboro, translating and assisting where needed.

“With the unprecedented caseload that we have received in the past several months due to the crisis in Afghanistan, HOME teams have been a phenomenal support to us and our clients. They have been essential in ensuring that our clients ongoing needs are being met and that they are on a path to self-sufficiency” says Hannah Scully, IRC’s Community Engagement Coordinator.

 “The IRC in Charlottesville,” says Scully, “is committed to ensuring this new experience is a positive and impactful one and will provide guidance and assistance, along with opportunities to connect with other HOME Teams and refugee families.” If you are interested in forming a team, please contact [email protected].