THS Junior Sponsors Afghan Refugees


Gia Shin, Co-Editor-in-Chief

When the Taliban seized Afghanistan’s capital in August 2021, over 122,000 people were forced to evacuate. It’s not an everyday occurence to hear about a local family sponsoring an entire family to reestablish a life in the US. However, Tenafly High School junior Libby Hod’s family is doing just that.

Libby turned to her Instagram followers to encourage them to donate to the GoFundMe set up for the incoming refugee family. “The father was an interpreter for [the] US Marines,” she wrote. “The US Marines Team America plucked him, [his wife], and his young son out of the throngs of Afghans fleeing for their lives with only the clothing on their backs… They don’t have very many belongings… when asked what they wanted, they responded simply with ‘a refrigerator.’” Since then, the GoFundMe, hosted by Hod’s Welcome Circle, has amassed over $17,000 out of the $30,000 goal.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) was founded over one hundred years ago to protect refugees who are forced to flee their homelands. HIAS resettles refugees and helps rebuild their lives in a safe environment, more specifically through a program called Welcome Circles. HIAS Welcome Circles are groups of five to eight people who directly aid the Afghans they are sponsoring. “My mom’s friend wanted to get involved, so she asked a group of women at our synagogue. Together they formed a steering committee of six women to sponsor and commit to being a Welcome Circle for an Afghan family,” she said. Since then, the family was temporarily moved into a local family’s pool house while the sponsoring Welcome Circle searched for a permanent home. Now, they reside in Paterson, which hosts one of the biggest Afghan populations in the state. “The local Afghan community has welcomed them; it’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking to hear their stories,” she said.

Hod took interest in observing the family’s Afghan culture since they are “very traditional and religious. Helping them navigate our largely secular world has been a steep learning curve,” she said. The Afghan family also had to adjust to the American lifestyle, and she was intrigued by our contrasting notions of socializing. “To the Welcome Circle, [it] seemed like making friends with other young Afghan moms would be simple, you know, just invite others over for playdates,” she said. “My mom learned that Afghanistan families are large—four to eight kids kind of large—so for women and moms, socializing outside of your family or your husband’s family (sister-in-laws, aunts, cousins etc.) is virtually unheard of.”

There were other obstacles to overcome during the adjustment period. “It’s surreal to meet a real family who spent three months in safe houses literally running for their lives,” Hod said. “The family is still very, very afraid for their lives. They are scared the Taliban will find them.” Even while staying at a local family’s gated pool house, they were still skeptical and fearful. Hod commented that this experience expanded her horizons outside of the largely sheltered, safe, and comfortable environment that Tenafly provides. She was able to appreciate the things we may easily take for granted: freedom, security, basic necessities.

Overall, for Hod, watching the Afghan family adjust to our neighborhood and seeing glimpses of their culture has been an eye-opening experience. “It helped me understand just how much it costs to live,” Hod said. “Even a tiny apartment in Paterson costs $1,500 a month and that doesn’t include anything… In the past two months since the war in Ukraine began, the cost of food has skyrocketed. Together with my family, I have seen the impacts of food insecurity and what it means to be affected by changes in cost of living.”

Though it may not seem like high schoolers can make as direct and drastic an impact as Hod’s family, there are other ways we can help. The GoFundMe continues to welcome donations, and every dollar matters. If donating money is difficult, Hod suggests donating your time instead. “The family is in need of visitors to help welcome them to New Jersey. They don’t have a car, but [they] love exploring. A trip to a local park or a picnic is a great way to welcome them,” she said. “If anyone is interested, please email [email protected], and I can send you a sign up link for visiting this family.”