Your children have caught video glimpses of the current desperate situation in Afghanistan.
They’ve asked you questions and wondered if they can do anything to help, but you have no idea where to begin.
Liz Nelson, outreach manager at World Relief Seattle, an organization that welcomes Afghan refugees to the United States and offers support and resources to recent arrivals, shares some best practices for how families can engage and provide practical support to refugees experiencing displacement and trauma.
Learn together as a family
You may feel ill-equipped to explain what’s going on in Afghanistan to your children. After all, you may feel overwhelmed with understanding the complexities yourself. Nelson encourages parents to learn alongside their children, rather than coming up with simple or easy answers.
From looking at world maps and reading age-appropriate books about displacement and migration (check out this reading list) to exploring stories of a personal family history of immigration, parents can learn together with their children. Engage, explore and ask, rather than worrying about having neatly packaged answers for children.
Research pressing needs of Afghan refugees
After understanding that Afghan families have been, and will continue to be, settling into our city, your children may naturally want to respond with tangible support, such as donating clothes or toys to children who are arriving with just a suitcase or two. Harness their desire to help by looking at the needs and capacities of organizations that are working to welcome Afghan refugees. Instead of contacting organizations directly, first check out the information and resources they’ve provided for community members who want to help out. This is the best first place to start. (Many local organizations, in addition to World Relief Seattle, have pages with information and resources for community members, such as the International Rescue Committee and the Refugee Women’s Alliance.)
You could go shopping as a family, gathering items together for a welcome kit or back-to-school kit; you could browse the WRS Amazon gift registry and purchase requested items for newly arriving folks, or you could channel your children’s entrepreneurial side and help them hold a fundraiser to raise money to buy gift cards for families when they arrive. Some ideas for raising funds include a garage sale, art sale or a lemonade stand. (Let your children lead the project. Who knows what ideas they may come up with?)
Gift cards are especially useful because families can use them to purchase items they need, and they require very little storage space for relief organizations.
If your family donates items or gift certificates, your kids can include welcome cards and notes. Get out some paper and markers and have your kids write encouraging notes of welcome and support, such as “We’re so glad you’re here!” or “Welcome to Washington!” or “I hope you like your new school!”
Nelson encourages families to remember that people experiencing persecution and displacement are not vulnerable people. They are extraordinary people in a vulnerable situation. As you talk and learn with your children, frame the conversation around how you can support folks who are in a vulnerable situation rather than as giving handouts to people who can’t help themselves. World Relief Seattle’s vision statement, according to Nelson, says “envision every refugee and immigrant welcomed by community, rooted in community, and empowered for community.”
You can take advantage of these opportunities you have to learn, to give and to make an impact with your family. Together, we can all make our community a welcoming place.
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