By Collin Riviello
Following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, on Aug. 31, members of our community are organizing to help Afghan refugees who are starting new lives in our area, as well as those left behind.
One of those left behind, Farhad, who asked that we use only his first name because he fears for his life, graduated from the University of Maryland (UMD) in 2020 with a Master of Science in telecommunications.
Farhad was able to pursue his degree thanks to a U.S. government scholarship. As of press time, he, his wife and their four daughters are barricaded inside their home on the outskirts of a major city in Afghanistan, looking for a way out of the country.
University Park resident Beth Domingo served as Farhad’s host while he studied at UMD. She has spent dozens of hours writing to members of Congress and state delegates to sponsor him, so that he would be eligible to come back to the U.S.
Domingo asked a neighborhood email group for State Department contacts. She received more than 100 responses and compiled the leads in a spreadsheet, which she updates whenever she hears back from a contact.
“I know him, and I feel for him, and I want to help him,” she said.
According to Domingo, resources in the city where Farhad is staying are strained, and food is expensive.
“I imagine what it would be like if my family was trapped,” said Domingo, who is married with four grown children. Over the years, she has hosted students from Canada, Pakistan, India, Colombia and Kazakhstan.
Other community members are helping refugees leave Afghanistan and settle in the U.S., too.
More than 90 Hyattsville residents have come together to support refugee families, especially families of those who worked with U.S. forces and personnel in Afghanistan. Many of these families are settling in the area through a program run by Lutheran Social Services of the North Capital Area.
Hyattsville is one of three D.C. suburbs where Lutheran Social Services is helping about 800 individuals settle. As part of these efforts, the nonprofit is recruiting residents to help refugee families with transportation, housing, job assistance, mentoring and other essential needs.
Hyattsville resident Tricia Koroknay-Palicz is part of a self-organized group working in conjunction with Lutheran Social Services. The group is coordinating volunteers to furnish and stock homes for refugee families.
Like Domingo, Koroknay-Palicz sent out a call to coordinate refugee assistance through local email groups and quickly received dozens of responses. Respondents offered not only physical donations like toiletries and furniture, but transportation for refugees so that they could attend appointments and run errands.
Koroknay-Palicz said the volunteer effort came together so quickly because Hyattsville already has a well-organized, supportive community.
“I’m just one of at least 90 people in Hyattsville, who are super, super passionate and committed to helping people, and I’m literally just coordinating amongst all these people who are committing space and money and time and are responding really, really quickly,” she said.
“I think there’s a moral imperative to care for one’s neighbor,” said Koroknay-Palicz. “When I think of who’s my neighbor, I think globally,” she added. “But then there’s also the aspect of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. These people who are fleeing right now, they were our allies; they were part of the project that the U.S. undertook in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, and their lives are currently in danger because they worked with us.”