Many newly resettled Afghans in the United States came through Operation Allies Welcome (OAW) Response , a coordinated interagency effort to resettle over 75,000 Afghans displaced by the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021. In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, resettlement agencies around the country had to work rapidly with federal partners, health systems, public health practitioners, social service and community-based organizations to support newly arrived Afghans. Newly arrived Afghans are simultaneously adapting to a new life, contributing their skills to their new communities, securing public benefits, seeking opportunities for the adults and children in their families, experiencing ongoing challenges related to the trauma of sudden displacement, and navigating health care as English language learners in new systems.
Welcome Corps Pathway Program
To help with welcoming refugees, the Department of State, in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services, announced the creation of the Welcome Corps in January 2023: “a new private sponsorship program that empowers everyday Americans to play a leading role in welcoming refugees arriving through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) and supporting their resettlement and integration as they build new lives in the United States.” The Welcome Corps Pathway Program formalizes the process of privately sponsoring and welcoming refugee newcomers. This process of supporting newcomers includes many components, including welcoming newcomers at the airport, securing and preparing initial housing, enrolling children in school, and helping adults find employment.
Need for Cultural Training for Sponsors
Communities seeking to support newly arrived Afghans and other newcomers need to be equipped not only with the U.S. systems navigation skills necessary to support these populations but also robust cultural humility and competency. Cultural training for sponsors prepares the community with a more nuanced perspective of newcomer communities so that they can provide support and referrals as needed.
Cultural Training Led by a CBO in Connecticut
Elena’s Light, a community-based organization (CBO) based out of Connecticut, serves refugees by providing resources around education, legal advocacy, and other needs to support new arrivals in their transition to the United States. With the increase in Afghan refugees in the United States since OAW, Elena’s Light has also risen to meet the needs of this community. One program that was developed after OAW was their Cultural Training for sponsors of Afghan refugees arriving through the Welcome Corps Program.
This training was developed for individuals and organizations to help welcome and house those individuals arriving from Afghanistan. Although local resettlement agencies provided plenty of information about administrative, financial, and legal considerations for new Afghan arrivals, there was a need to give more information on the on-going need to provide more cultural humility and cultural competency trainings to ensure volunteers are informed about various newcomer cultural practices. The training covered topics such as basic Dari and Pashto phrases to help with communication, assisting sponsors to understand some common cultural and religious practices (such as an orientation around fasting for religious purposes, like Ramadan), and provided space for people to ask questions about specific cultural considerations. The training included two interpreters who spoke Dari and Pashto as well to provide education on languages and teach useful phrases, including how to say “welcome.” By providing this training in-person and virtually, they were able to support sponsors and organizations beyond Connecticut as well.