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Safeena: An Afghan refugee finds welcome and opportunity in Lowell

  November 15, 2021

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Safeena poses with her three children.

Safeena came to Lowell, MA as a refugee from Afghanistan in 2017, with her husband, two young children, and another baby on the way. She knew there would be challenges ahead. “My parents were here, so I was a little bit confident,” she says, but she knew it would be difficult to adapt to a new culture.

When Safeena initially arrived, she and her husband and children were brought to her parents’ house, in Lowell. Then, Sabyne, Safeena’s IINE caseworker, took the lead in finding them an apartment near her parents. “It’s a very good home,” Safeena says.

The First Months

Learning about American holidays is part of cultural orientation.

During the first months in Lowell, Sabyne and the rest of the IINE team gave Safeena and her husband their first lessons in how to navigate life in America, helping them sign up for health insurance and food stamps, giving them direct cash assistance, and connecting them to a local organization that provided furniture and beds.

IINE also introduced Safeena to Early Intervention and Head Start programs. In Afghanistan, she had never encountered any information on child development: “Before… they are crying, you don’t know the answer, why they are crying.” A class on social emotional skills through the Early Intervention program helped.  “Those are amazing courses,” notes Safeena.

Early Intervention was a vital resource for her son Mohammad Ghayoor, who was 3 years old when they arrived in Lowell, and her daughter Areesh, who was 1 year old. A home visitor would come twice a week to show Safeena how to enhance her children’s development through targeted playtime and vocabulary usage, helping her to learn to be “the first teacher for your child.”

Lowell has a large, close knit Afghan community, with many other recent arrivals looking out for newcomers. In the initial weeks and months in Lowell, other Afghan women in the community came to visit and welcome Safeena and her family, and invited them for lunches and dinners. Safeena’s husband joined a community group that meets weekly to play cricket and discuss the most urgent issues affecting the local Afghan diaspora.

Paying it Forward

Safeena’s youngest daughter was born not long after the family arrived in Lowell.

After she arrived, Safeena expected that it would be a while before she got her first job because she was pregnant, but IINE staff immediately noticed that she had excellent English skills and offered her a part-time position as an interpreter. She appreciated how flexible work with IINE was, and how understanding her colleagues were, allowing her to interpret by phone while she recovered from giving birth to her youngest daughter, Hareer.

Next, Safeena began providing childcare for other immigrants as they attended English classes, and then, worked for IINE as a receptionist. Finally, in March 2021, she was offered the position as the human resources coordinator in IINE’s Lowell office. “It’s amazing, working with IINE, I feel very happy,” she says.

Safeena is well equipped to help the new wave of Afghan evacuees arriving this fall, and she and other community members have met with public school representatives to make sure that the Afghan children entering Lowell public schools have the support they need, including English language classes and help adapting to American culture.[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]


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