In January, IINE-Lowell hosted an event celebrating both our extraordinary clients and the community volunteers who help support them. One highlight was a speech by Jane Blumberg, a former elementary school teacher who coordinates one of IINE-Lowell’s volunteer Family Support Teams.
Like many volunteers, Jane’s group was compelled by news of the catastrophic fall of Kabul and chaotic evacuation of Afghan allies. “Our team originated out of First Parish in Concord,” Jane explains. “When we heard that 95,000 Afghan refugees would be arriving in the U.S., our Immigrant Justice Task Force started planning. By the time the Hakimi family arrived—Thanksgiving week of 2021—we had a robust team of about 50 people with an array of skills and a few with experience helping immigrants. But a lot of us had very little experience and no idea what to expect.”
The Hakimis, whom Jane describes as “fun and complex” are a family of twelve Afghan evacuees ranging in ages from six to seventy, including Mr. and Mrs. Hakimi’s seven children and their three teenage nephews, who now live in their own apartment. None spoke English when they arrived, so communication was a challenge, but Jane says her team was “lucky to have had interpreters who not only knew the language but could also provide us with cultural perspectives.”
Jane served as the team’s volunteer coordinator and notes that, as months went by, her team expanded to include people from other towns and faith communities. She enjoyed getting to know “all of these wonderful people whom I never would have met otherwise.” Describing their experience with the Hamiki family, she says:
“After 270 medical and dental appointments, many Emergency Room visits, parent-teacher conferences in three schools, driving tests, budget coaching, lessons in cutting hair, chronic apartment challenges, missteps and back pedals, bowling outings, picnics, homework support, delicious Afghan meals, endless cups of tea, dozens of COVID tests, laser surgery, root canals, tutoring, and on and on, the Hakimis are finding their way.”
And so are the volunteers supporting them.
“I am grateful, for their willingness to show understanding and forbearance when our team has made mistakes, fallen short or overstepped our bounds. There have been moments of hilarity and moments of tension and moments of despair. When there is no shared language, vastly different life experiences, and deep cultural differences, it’s sort of amazing that friendships still develop, even love. Those on both sides of the partnership grow and change and it’s hard and it’s wonderful.”
Jane’s team works in close partnership with Hakimi’s IINE case manager, Sarah McNeil. “She has overseen all the government paperwork, and signed up the family for refugee benefits, employment support, English classes, and legal advice,” Jane recounts. “In the early months, she and I texted and spoke on the phone, sometimes multiple times a day including weekends and evenings. We shared a deep desire to help, and we recognized how broad and prolonged the support would need to be.”
While Jane was herself being thanked and honored at IINE-Lowell’s appreciation event, she ended her remarks with thanks of her own.
“IINE has made it possible for us to have had this amazing opportunity to make a difference in one family’s journey adjusting and acclimating to their new home. For this, we are grateful. Thank you.”