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93 Afghan refugee students start new life in U.S. at Fairfax County Public Schools

Fairfax County Public Schools says they've welcomed at least 93 students who are part of the latest influx of Afghan refugee families.

ANNANDALE, Va. — As Afghan refugee families settle in Fairfax County, a group of students originally from Afghanistan is helping them adjust.

“We just came in 2020 because of some problems," Junior at Fairfax County Public Schools, Ahsanullah Luddin said. "My father [was] kidnapped by Taliban with David, he was like [an] American journalist.”

Luddin is talking about David Rohde, a former reporter for The New York Times. He now works for The New Yorker.

The kidnapping happened more than a decade ago -- and both escaped after about seven months -- but it still serves as a reminder of the danger Luddin's family faced in Afghanistan.

Luddin said he comes from a family with 13 siblings, about half of whom are now living in Fairfax County with his dad -- and the other half are in Germany with his mom.

He moved to the U.S. in 2020, right before the pandemic hit, and had to learn a new language and cultural norms while navigating virtual learning.

It was a similar story for sisters Khujasta and Husna Basiri, a senior and sophomore respectively. 

Their family, however, didn't face violence in Afghanistan -- they won a lottery to come to the U.S. -- but it was still life-changing.

RELATED: Afghan American community banding together to support incoming refugees

“It was [confusing] for me even sometimes," Khujasta said. "I was crying that, 'oh my god what's going on? What changes came to my life, why [did] I [come] here?'”

They agreed with Luddin that the hardest adjustment was learning the language and cultural norms in America.

That's why the three of them are joining with sophomore Sosan Barakzai to welcome new students from Afghan refugee families.

FCPS said they have at least 93 Afghan students at this time.

This group of students, who all attend Annandale High School, said they're creating guides for teachers and students and also helping to collect donations for families in need.

“For the students, we make the slides, presentations," Husna said. "So you can ask questions; you can go attend the office hours, teachers will help you, and we will show them how to use the technology.”

Barakzai has lived in the U.S. the longest, immigrating about five years ago. She said many Afghan families see America as "heaven," and she's felt welcomed by teachers and students alike since moving here.

“I want to tell all those Afghan refugees, 'like if I did it, you can do it, too,'" Barakzai said. "So I really want to welcome everyone. Open arms, open hearts, and I want everyone else to do the same.”

Teachers, like the Assistant Principal at Annandale High School, Sarah Eqab, said they're listening to students to figure out how best they can help.

"Being able to help them deal with trauma and being trauma-informed has been something, as a school, that we've been working towards," Eqab said. "Just being aware of how we can be supportive, how we can be listeners, how we can help them, you know, outside of school, in school."

Luddin said he now feels safe living and studying in Fairfax County.

“Here I have good opportunities to study. I have respect as a human. I have a lot of rights," he said. "So I'm not scared of the security or that stuff.”

Barakzai said they're grateful for every opportunity because even if you get an education in Afghanistan, it's difficult to find a job to support your family.

This group is now channeling that gratitude into paying it forward.

"Treat people how you want to be treated, right?" she said. "Give back what you get. If we all do that, then there's no hatred in the world. Just kindness."

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