Turmoil. Conflict. Chaos. These are just a few words that come to mind when I was asked to share my story. My story begins 34 years ago, I lost 17 members of my family as a result of the Afghanistan crisis. People I loved and cared about were gone too soon, I didn’t have time to even process what I’d lost, I was fighting to stay alive. I knew I needed to escape my country. With so much hardship surrounding me, it was hard to be optimistic. I would close my eyes and pray it would be over soon.
My focus was to leave Afghanistan, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I faced a long and hard journey ahead of me. I escaped to Pakistan and shortly after I fled to Hamburg, Germany. It was there where I finally saw a gleam of hope: Catholic Charities’ Refugee Services. A friend referred me to the program and as soon as I stepped into the office, I immediately felt welcomed. Catholic Charities took me in and provided a safe refuge for me to resettle in San Diego.
“I escaped to Pakistan and shortly after I fled to Hamburg, Germany. It was there where I finally saw a gleam of hope: Catholic Charities’ Refugee Services. A friend referred me to the program and as soon as I stepped into the office, I immediately felt welcomed. Catholic Charities took me in and provided a safe refuge for me to resettle in San Diego.”
My first year in San Diego I immersed myself into the culture of America. I learned English at a nearby community college. After completing my language course, I got an offer to work at Catholic Charities in transportation. Throughout the years, I got involved in several programs in a few different departments, but now my official title is Driver for Catholic Charities’ Refugee Services.
I feel very blessed to be in my position. Families come to me after weeks of traveling, days of long flights and hours of no sleep. Many refugees come with nothing—no luggage or bags, just the clothes on their backs, the weight of the world they just escaped and a dream of a better life.
Even though I love what I do, my job is not always easy. Every day I’m picking up between five, sometimes up to ten, families. We help all kinds of people coming to America: widows, orphans, the elderly. Many of these refugees are exhausted, disabled, sick, pregnant or have small children in tow and don’t have the energy to talk. Our program helps refugees from more than 80 different countries, which means I also need to have a general understanding of various cultures.
I am the first impression and interaction for each of these refugees. I am the first person they try and talk to when they are scared, exhausted and barely comprehending they don’t have to run anymore. Not only do I pick up refugees from the airport, but I am also responsible for driving these families while they are receiving services in their program. From citizenship appointments to finding housing and medical care, I have the opportunity to connect with people each time I drive them.
Something particularly special about my position is seeing how I made an impact on lives years later. Many years ago, I picked up a family from the Congo with a four-year-old daughter. Two years ago, she returned to Catholic Charities as a caseworker.. Another man I picked up years ago went off to college and eventually returned to Catholic Charities as my supervisor. He also became my teacher at City College, and now is getting a PhD and working for the county. I love being able to see how our journeys intertwined and where these families are now. It is truly a blessing to watch everything come full circle and be a part of Catholic Charities’ mission to help these marginalized people succeed.
I cannot express enough how much Catholic Charities impacted my life. They graciously sponsored my family and brought my mom, dad, sister and brother to San Diego. In addition, Catholic Charities helped me go back to Afghanistan to marry my wife and bring her back to the States. Today, we have a family of five kids (three of which just graduated from California universities). It goes to show the compassion of Catholic Charities. Everyone here goes the extra mile to help people get to a safe place and put them on a path of success.
Catholic Charities has created a second home of love, respect and mercy for all those in need. For both the refugees and all of us who work at Refugee Services, Catholic Charities has developed a friendly and loving environment that makes it an amazing community to be a part of. Through their Refugee Services program, I am able to provide for my family while helping other people who are in the position I was once in.
“Catholic Charities has created a second home of love, respect and mercy for all those in need. For both the refugees and all of us who work at Refugee Services, Catholic Charities has developed a friendly and loving environment that makes it an amazing community to be a part of.”
Every day I continue to pray for Catholic Charities and all the refugees that we help. I pray that God continues to use me to show His mercy and grace to others through every interaction.
Abdul’s story illustrates just how vital it is to have a welcoming and supportive community when building a new life and home in a new country. We ask that you give a gift today that empowers us to act on behalf the poor, vulnerable and marginalized in our communities.