By Kathy Brown
(February 2, 2023) — “The U.S. was there [in Afghanistan] and it was good; people were happy,” said Himanuddin. “The U.S. left, and then, overnight, it was very scary.”
Himanuddin is the nephew of Azam Khan, whose family came to Haddam sponsored by HARRP, the Haddam Area Refugee Resettlement Project. When I went to interview Azam, two of his nephews were visiting. Himanuddin, age 30, lives in Texas and is currently employed as an Uber driver; he has been in the United States for 19 months. Himanuddin’s wife and children are still in Afghanistan, and he is hoping that they will be reunited in the U.S. very soon. He said they are safe, for the time being. Himanuddin said he worked as an interpreter at a construction company in Afghanistan and helped the U.S. “If people worked for the U.S. and helped them, then the U.S. is helping them,” explained Himanuddin. Umar, age 28, has been in the U.S. for only one month, and is living in New Haven, looking for employment.
The Khans have other family still in Afghanistan, and communicate with them through WhatsApp or on the phone. The rest of the family would also like to come to the United States.
The house the Khans are living in is owned by the United Congregational Church of Haddam and Higganum (UCCHH), and it was readied for a family by a team of volunteers. When their renter left in 2022, the Church thought about selling the house. “The new pastor asked how we could use the house to forward our mission,” said Kristin Battistoni, one of the HARRP volunteers. “We have all said we want to be a church that is known for mission work and helping our community.”
When word got out about HARRP, about 50 people said they were interested in helping. Thirty of those people got fully trained, and about 20 volunteers are “fully engaged,” said Lori Chadwick, one of the co-leaders of HARRP. The other co-leader is Jack Murphy.
Azam arrived in Haddam on November 18, 2022, after living in a New Haven hotel for a couple of months with his wife, Bibi Jana, and their four children, Muska, age 14, Jahanzib, 11, Afsana, 8, and Raihan, 6. They fled Afghanistan to Pakistan in late March 2022 with very few possessions, and then arrived in New York City in late August.
The family had lived in Khost, which is in the northeast of Afghanistan, near Pakistan, where Azam was a jeweler. Bibi Jana is a seamstress, and I saw some beautiful cushions that she made.
Azam is currently working at Bull Metal Products in Middletown. The owner lives in Haddam and is a member of the church.
The goal of the resettlement program is to have the family independent within 6-12 months of arrival. A lot goes on in that time: signing up the children for school, learning English, obtaining Green Cards, dental and medical visits, employment, a driver’s license. And for HaRRP, that’s a lot of coordination that needs to happen: from finding rides, to making appointments, to lining up volunteers. When the family first arrived, for example, HaRRP paid the rent for the house for the first month. Now that Azam has employment, each month HaRRP pays less and Azam pays more, until the six-month mark, at which time Azam will be paying the full amount.
Azam and Bibi Jana are getting English lessons from ESOL tutors once a week, and the children are learning English (as well as other subjects) at Haddam Killingworth High School, Intermediate School, and Burr District Elementary School. Volunteers from HaRRP got trained to become the ESOL tutors.
Another thing that the committee is looking for is four bicycle helmets for the children, as well as some baseball gloves and a baseball, so that the children can engage in outdoor activities as the weather gets warmer.
On Thursday nights, the whole family walks over to Brainerd Library. The parents get tutored in English, and the children are there, too. Lori is looking for some mentors for the children. She thinks it would be great if there was an adult with a child the same age as one of the Khan children, who could meet them at the library each week to chat, and enlarge the circle of people the children interact with.
When I asked what Azam thought of Haddam, he said [through his nephew, who was translating for us] “Feeling good so far.” But then he went on to share that downtown was far. When Lori asked if he would be happier when he could get his driver’s license and a car,” Azam’s face broke out in a huge grin, and his nephew smiled too. “He’ll be much happier when he gets a car.”
HARRP will be looking for a reliable car for the family for when Azam gets his license.
When we left, the family was getting ready for a big meal, and asked if we would like to join them. A bounty was spread out in front of the handmade cushions, and it looked as though Bibi Jana had cooked all day in preparation. It looks like the family is settling in to Haddam. (Pictured above, Azam Khan, second from right, with his children and nephews. Not pictured are his wife and eldest daughter)
If you would like more information about volunteering for HARRP, please email HaRRPHaddam@gmail.com. If you would like to make a donation, please send a check made out to HaRRP to Higganum Congregational Church, 23 Parsonage Road, Higganum, CT 06441.
Photo by Kathy Brown