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‘We had to leave everything behind’ | Groups helping Afghan refugees build new homes

Homes Not Borders and the Komak Foundation need donations and volunteers to help families start over.

WASHINGTON — Refugees are still fleeing Afghanistan and rebuilding their lives here in the DMV. Some organizations are working to make sure they feel at home.

Since the U.S. announced its withdrawal, thousands of people have been flying into the United States, leaving everything behind.

Many are settling in northern Virginia and Maryland, without having established houses, clothes, homes or even knowing the language.

“It's very well known what happens in Afghanistan and how we had to leave everything behind,” Nabila Asadi said in Dari. “There was no way of continuing what we knew as normal to you know further our career or our education, especially for women. We had to flee.”

22-year-old Asadi left Afghanistan with only her sister and one bag each in August. They had no idea what to expect when they stepped foot in the U.S. or how they would build a home here.

That’s where the group Homes Not Borders steps in.

“We save them all their money --save them all the resettlement money,” founder Laura Thompson Osuri said. “Everything down to the mattresses, now we provide for them. Toys, you know, we go above and beyond what the basic requirements are upon resettlement.”

They coordinate with government-backed resettlement agencies to set up apartments for families coming in – all with donations from the community.

Homes Not Borders has worked with resettlement agencies to help refugees from multiple countries for years.

But, the need has surged with this latest influx of refugees from Afghanistan—especially over the past month or so, according to the group’s founder.

Osuri said in July, they were setting up about two homes a week. Now, they’re up to six a week.

“We can help a lot of families,” volunteer Bruce Metcalf said. “Some of them just you know, you see them coming with nothing you know, and then boom-- I can't believe what once you see a house set up you're just totally amazed what they get.”

It’s the little touches that make a big difference for people like Asadi.

“What we saw were obviously a pleasant surprise, because we did have shelter and it was furnished and that was a good feeling,” she said.

Metcalf knows that feeling.

“We were living in Qatar. Actually, for five years my wife is opening up a hospital out there,” he said. “I can relate to where they're coming from a little bit. I’ve never lived in that type of world before but… it was a whole new culture, a whole new world. Everybody wants to be safe and happy and with their family.”

Metcalf also has the eye for making a house feel like a home—he’s done some house staging for work.

With volunteers’ help, Asadi and her sister finally have a safe space to start over.

“We feel good about being in America, but we're, you know, we're still thinking about the people left behind,” Asadi said.

Homes Not Borders is now also working to try to help more families come to America.

For those wishing to donate, Osuri said the main items they always need are side tables, dressers, lamps, twin comforter mattresses, bed frames, and mattress protectors.

Many Afghan American families also watched what was happening to their countrymen and stepped up to help, like Miriam Seddiq.

She founded the Komak Foundation in August – the name literally means “help.”

Over the last few months, it’s blossomed into a donation center with multiple rooms full of clothes and supplies.

She said they’re also working to help connect refugees with jobs and education resources.

Now, they need to continue to fill up their donation centers with items like pressure cookers, pots and pans, winter clothes, and shoes. But, they also need more volunteers as they expand.

If you want to help, you can check out their item wish list here.

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