This message comes from Rahmatullah Aka, IINE’s Community Services Manager in Boston. He shared this story as part of our All Together campaign, made possible by a generous $15k match offer from a family foundation and friend of IINE. This month, they will match every donation, dollar-for-dollar, up to $15,000 $30,000

As the Community Services Manager in IINE’s Boston office, one of my most important responsibilities is to visit newly-arrived refugees in their homes on their first day in the United States. Even though they are often exhausted and a little overwhelmed, I try to make them feel welcome as I explain what services we’ll provide in their first months here.   

This is what my caseworker did for me when I resettled to Boston from Afghanistan in 2016, and what I planned to do for the Iraqi refugee family scheduled to arrive on March 23rd from Turkey. However, no one plans for a pandemic.  

On the same morning the family was expected to land at Logan Airport, Governor Baker announced a stay-at-home advisory in Massachusetts due to COVID-19. Instead of greeting the family at the airport, bringing them to their new apartment, and building a relationship through home and office visits, our work together began with a phone call. Over the next few days and weeks, I started to get to know them over video conference, not unlike how I communicate with my loved ones back in Afghanistan – except they were just miles away from me.  

Arriving to the U.S. as a refugee is hard. Arriving in the midst of a pandemic makes it even harder. There were no in-person MBTA orientations or on-site English assessments at our office in Chinatown. The family couldn’t go to the clinic for a routine health screening, and their public benefit applications were delayed for weeks. And probably hardest of all, I couldn’t meet with them face-to-face to answer their questions and tell them that things would get easier.  

Fortunately, IINE was able to draw on its own fundraising to provide emergency cash assistance for housing, food, and essentials for this family, and so many others.  

My biggest concern for the family was their emotional health. It’s lonely arriving in a new country, and even lonelier when you’re stuck in lockdown. For the first few weeks after they arrived, I worried that the family was hardly leaving their apartment. Nevertheless, I encouraged them to take small steps. In a recent video chat, they shared that they made a “socially distanced” visit to a nearby park which lifted their spirits. This progress means so much to me. These days, they end every call with, “We can’t wait to meet you in person.” I can’t, either.