For Farah, Herat, Afghanistan was home. It’s where she grew up, found a job she loved and started a family of her own.
As one of seven children, Farah spent every weekend with the women in her family talking, laughing and eating. Gathering in the homes of moms, sisters and daughters, their togetherness embodied the hospitality Afghans so highly value.
From a young age, Farah was motivated to learn about the world. Nicknamed the “city of civilization,” Herat was a rich tapestry of inspiring history, art and culture. “I took English and [found] other resources to help me grow,” she said.
She received a degree in education and went on to work as an English teacher at an educational and cultural center in Herat. The center was part of a partnership between the Afghan Ministry of Culture and Information and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Most students ranged in age from 15 to 35, and many came from poor, rural communities where they had limited access to the internet and educational opportunities.
“I enjoyed how we served the youth,” Farah said. “We had at least 200 students a day.” Those students received training in English, digital literacy, leadership, job preparedness and more. Eventually, Farah got involved in implementing programs and became the deputy coordinator.
When she was 25, Farah got married. She and her husband enjoyed traveling together and lived in a beautiful home where they planned to raise a family. Their son, Hanan, was born in 2019.
Farah and her husband loved their lives, and they felt safe, surrounded by family and all that Herat had to offer.
But then, they started hearing disturbing rumors. Farah remembers sitting in her living room in August 2021 when she first heard the Taliban was coming.
The couple’s jobs put them at risk of being targeted by the extremist group, so they made the heartbreaking decision to flee, leaving the home they loved behind.
First, the family of three fled to Kabul, hoping to get a flight out of the country. They soon discovered, however, that the airport was no longer safe. “People died trying to get to the airport. There was shooting, noises, so many people. You can’t imagine,” she said. “I was watching on TV. Many people tried to go to the airport three or four times, but were not able to. I saw how horrible it was.”
They needed to find another way out. The family continued east, and managed to escape through Pakistan. Eventually, they made their way to the U.S. where they were welcomed in Wisconsin by World Relief Fox Valley.
At first, adjusting to their new lives was difficult. “Everything was different,” Farah said. “Food, transportation. Everyone needs to have a car here.” She also felt the loss of the support system she had in Herat. “Taking care of my child, I am the only one. But in Afghanistan, I had a support system.”
While World Relief couldn’t replace the family, friends and home Farah’s family lost, the welcome they shared helped ease the burden of loss. It wasn’t long before Farah was using her own language and cross-cultural skills to help World Relief welcome more Afghans like her.
She is now on staff at World Relief Fox Valley, leading women’s groups to help others in her community adjust and thrive in their new lives in the U.S.
These Afghan women’s groups are helping create safe spaces for women to connect, process and develop life-skills as they navigate their new lives and rebuild together. Group activities range from the practical, like taking women on tours of the labor and delivery floors of local hospitals, to the more relational, like gathering women together to get to know one another and share life experiences and journeys.
Even as she focuses on rebuilding, in her own family and in the wider Afghan community, some days are harder than others. Farah misses her home in Herat, and she hopes Americans can learn from the beauty of Afghan culture.
“The people of Afghanistan are so hospitable. People care about each other a lot. Families are together, and care for each other. There is respect for elders,” she said.
Although this is not the life Farah and her husband had imagined, they plan to invest in their Wisconsin community. “I am not originally from the U.S.,” Farah said, “but I want to be a part of the community and serve the people.”