The days at Fort Lee were long. And for the hundreds of Afghan refugees filling out paperwork and trying to contact loved ones, those days had been preceded by many other long, hard days. For these families, the journey to escape after the fall of the Afghan government was harrowing. They had spent hours in unmoving lines, unsure if they would be allowed to leave. Then they were ushered into crowded airports, onto planes, and finally boarded onto the buses that would carry them to the military base in Virginia and an uncertain future.
In that environment, it would be normal, expected even, to see worried faces or hear expressions of frustration, fear, and exhaustion. But that is not what stood out to Nathaniel Boorom.
“I spent ten days there, eleven hours a day,” said Boorom, a refugee resettlement school liaison for Commonwealth Catholic Charities. “I expected people to be really traumatized and sad. But they were excited. They talked about how lucky they felt to be in the United States, about what jobs they would get, and about what schools their children would attend. I was really amazed by the positivity.”
Boorom shared the story of one Afghan parent who was surprised to learn that religious accommodations – like prayer times and avoiding pork – would be made for his children in public schools in the United States. “He [the parent] said that the Taliban had warned them that Americans hate Muslims. ‘But it’s the opposite,’ he said, ‘we are being welcomed.’”
Providing a warm welcome is what CCC’s refugee resettlement program is all about, not only as the nonprofit organization responds to the ongoing Afghan refugee crisis, but every day. This welcome is especially heartfelt from the staff at CCC, many of whom are refugees and have gone through a similar process themselves.
“In our resettlement program – and really in all of the programs at CCC – our goal is to support people when they need it the most. We are there to be a resource and also to build real human connections,” said Jay Brown, who has served as CEO of CCC since January 2019.
Over the years, CCC has helped thousands of individuals through the refugee resettlement program. “In most cases, refugees arrive with very few resources,” said Brown. “They have left behind everything – their homes, belongings, careers, family and friends – everything familiar.”
This is why CCC is there on day one to to help families in all aspects of settling: find and set up a home, learn English, understand local culture, enroll children in school, prepare for employment, act as medical liaison for medical and mental health visits, sign up for insurance, and so much more.
For refugee families transitioning to life in Virginia, the journey has just begun, and CCC will continue to be there each step of the way.
“Our experience at Fort Lee and the community’s outpouring of support has been incredible. However, we know that the real work is just beginning. We are already preparing for the arrival of more families among the thousands who are still completing paperwork and screenings,” said Brown. “We know that their road will be difficult, but we are ready and waiting to welcome them home.”
Support the Work of CCC
- Purchase hand-painted gift card sets: What better way to share a little Christmas cheer than by giving a hand-painted card set as a gift or sending to your friends, coworkers, and family? Designed by a Richmond artist, these custom hand painted card sets are available separately or mixed in sets of 6 and 12. Ten percent of sales will be donated directly to CCC.
Attend the Holiday Festival of Music: Live event is Monday, November 29, 2021, 7:00 p.m. Virtual event is Monday, December 6, 2021, 6:30 p.m. Kick off the holidays with CCC’s thirtieth annual Holiday Festival of Music concert, featuring the Richmond Symphony and VCU choral ensemble. This year there are two great ways to enjoy the performance – from the comfort of your home virtually or live at the historic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. All proceeds benefit the individuals and families served by CCC’s many programs and services. For tickets and event information, please visit www.cccofva.org/hfom.
Photo: courtesy Commonwealth Catholic Charities