Less than two years ago, a young Paralympian, Afghan woman named Farzana arrived alone in the United States. Kabul had fallen to the Taliban.
She never imagined she would end up here, far removed from the home she knew and a family she loved. Now alone in a foreign country, she was unable to speak the language, understand the culture, or communicate her needs.
Fast forward one year later to World Relief’s Spotlight Event. This same young woman sits confidently in front of an intimate crowd at a coffee shop and openly shares her experience – with her own English words. Here, Farzana shares what it was like to flee Afghanistan, adjust to a new life in a foreign country, and the one thing that made a huge difference.
Her Life Before
Farzana never imagined a day when she would be forced to flee her home. It was difficult for anyone to believe that 20 years of progress in Afghanistan could revert back to its former state of Taliban rule and oppression.
After all, life had been good for Farzana. Her days were filled with things that mattered most to her. She was grateful for the support of her family – which included her parents, three sisters, and one brother. She cherished the laughter and celebratory times she enjoyed with her extended family. And she thrived in her passion to play basketball as a Paralympian athlete.
The Taliban Effect
When the Taliban took over in August 2021, life as Farzana knew it was abruptly altered. For her safety, she was encouraged to leave home and her family along with it.
The familiarities of every day life – working, practicing with her teammates, spending time with her family – were replaced with the unknown. She now resided in a world that no longer made sense to her.
Struggling to navigate a foreign culture, an unfamiliar language, and confusing systems, Farzana faced her biggest challenge: how could she live here alone?
The Paralympian Experience
On the surface, Farzana’s disability as a female Afghan might have been viewed as a disadvantage. Yet Farzana fought to be resilient, tenacious and independent. Something she would later need in her unexpected experience as an immigrant.
What helped shape these qualities within her? The unconditional support of her family and others as she competitively trained on the basketball court as a Paralympian.
The One Difference
Farzana might have felt alone, but she wasn’t alone. She ended up with another extended family in the United States that made a world of difference. The volunteers and staff at World Relief helped Farzana create a safe space to live. They supported her. Practiced English with her. Encouraged her to push past her challenges. They helped her accomplish her goals and continue to journey with her today.
And she has always had a remarkable friend walking right alongside her.
Her New Life
Farzana now lives independently in her own place. She is working, attending school, and thriving in her use of English. And she is back on the courts, living out her passion for basketball once again.
Her biggest dream? To be reunited with her family and to inspire other girls with disabilities that they too can accomplish their goals.
The Part You Play to Impact the Life of an Immigrant or Refugee
Immigrants and refugees in vulnerable situations are trying to navigate a foreign world without a safe space to do so. Volunteers at World Relief help provide this safe space by journeying with them and together, overcoming the barriers that can impede their success. You too can play an essential role in helping our new neighbors rebuild their lives by becoming a volunteer.
Catch Farzana’s whole story at the Spotlight event.
Watch other stories of transformation on World Relief Chicagoland’s YouTube channel!
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