KENT, Wash. - People who escaped the Taliban in Afghanistan are transitioning into their new lives in the Pacific Northwest. Just last month, more than 300 refugees made it to Washington. With more people arriving soon, communities are coming together to help support their new start.
"We’re better together and we want each person to be welcomed. Our tag line for the City of Kent is ‘bringing the world home.’ And we need to be a welcoming home, said Dave Mitchell, interim executive director of the Kent Community Foundation.
The foundation is kicking off fundraising efforts, September 23, in partnership with Olive Tree Mediterranean Restaurant in Kent. From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., proceeds from every purchase at the restaurant will go to the Afghan Crisis Fund.
"Some of the newest neighbors that we’re going to have from Afghanistan are coming with a status of ‘humanitarian parolee,’ instead of ‘refugee.’ And as such, they’re not going to have access to all the services that a refugee would have. So, we know there are gaps," said Mitchell.
The interim executive director said money raised would help support meals, medical needs, school supplies and more.
"We have employment needs, we want some of our new neighbors to be employed here. We want them to be helped up and during the difficult transitions and cultural changes. We really want them to be successful," said Mitchell.
Zana Abdulaziz said he is living his American dream. He is the co-owner of Olive Tree Mediterranean Restaurant.
"Opportunities and doors have opened for us and what we want to do is do the same for people that are coming here, the refugees. Give them the same opportunity, let’s get them going right away," said Abdulaziz.
He was a refugee from Kurdistan. Abdulaziz said watching people flee for their lives from Kabul, Afghanistan reminds him of his family’s escape to the United States in 1993.
"You’re coming here, you don’t know the language, you don’t know the culture, you don’t know what’s going on. You’re pretty much living in another world. We’re all breathing the same air, but sometimes you’re living in another world on this planet and that’s what it felt like for us," said Abdulaziz.
A foreign country soon felt like home to Abdulaziz and his family, and he credits local programs that helped them transition to their new lives in Washington. Abdulaziz, also a member of the Kent Community Foundation, said he felt a passion to give back to those living through similar experiences.
"It’s unfortunate that things continue to repeat themselves. So, what we’re doing here is trying to open eyes and let people know that we can all help each other," said Abdulaziz. "Our objective here is to guide them, to let them know that you’re not alone, that there are plenty of us here in the community that are reaching out. We’re here."
Abdulaziz said Olive Tree has already pledged a minimum $1,000 donation. Anyone who would like to contribute to the cause is welcomed to dine at his restaurant in Kent on September 23. The ongoing fundraiser is also accepting donations online.
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