Today we met with our contact at the International Institute. After helping our assigned Afghan family since November, we are taking stock of our progress. We volunteers of the International Institute of
St. Louis, who raised their hands in November to help, received this advice: help the families adapt to American ways of community involvement, of obtaining medical support, of enrolling their kids in school, of obtaining employment, and of navigating domestic needs. Don’t be "besties."
We have taken the family to the grocery stores, to doctors, to new friends’ homes, and to obtain ID’s and an attempt at a driver’s license. We have gone a little further by donating appliances, furniture, and gifting them a hand-made sewing table. Further, we waded through and advised them on the welfare opportunities like WIC, SNAP, and charity connections. And the father has found work.
We have given driving instructions and given the father driving practice in one of our cars. This latter effort is full of paradoxes. How to get to work? Bus? Three transfers and over an hour one way. And with no car, basically the family as a group can only walk to destinations, or ride with generous friends.
Uber? At a cost of $25 one way.
We have tried to locate a used car for them. But discussing this plan with another non-profit organizer on Cherokee St., the advice is, DON’T DO IT! IT WILL SUCK ALL OF THEIR MONEY! And that could happen. And—is this a problem we should even TRY to solve?
So we need to take a hard look down the road. There is a lot of Afghan culture impeding progress. Can the wife attend English classes in person without her husband? Can she leave the house alone for a short time for work? Can their soon-to-be four year old, next fall, leave home for special classes by bus? Will the husband see the reality of struggling in America? How easy it is to “fall through the cracks?” There is a common belief among immigrants that here, life is easy. It is not his fault if he still partly believes that.
So, we need to let go. But we will continue, for a while, helping with doctors, driving tests, and maybe a car search. More immigrants are coming. Should we do this again?