Guilford churches sponsoring Afghan refugees


By By Ben Rayner • 09/11/2021 1:12 PM EST

A newly formed group, Shoreline Interfaith Resettlement, will co-sponsor an Afghan refugee family with Integrated Refugee Immigrant Services (IRIS) over the coming months. According to IRIS, a New Haven-based nonprofit that has been a vital support service for refugees around the world since 1982, there could be between 500 and 700 Afghan refugees resettled in Connecticut following the recent withdrawal of the refugees. American troops and the chaos that followed in this war-torn country.

The First Congregational Church in Guilford and Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison have been involved in refugee resettlement efforts for two decades, helping those forced to flee their countries of origin, including Bosnia, Cuba and Kenya. Recently, a consortium of area religious organizations and community volunteers met to discuss how Guilford and Madison could help in this effort.

There are currently five congregations in the group as well as a number of supporters and volunteers from the community. Shoreline Interfaith Resettlement partners include Christ Episcopal Church in Guilford, Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, St. George Catholic Church in Guilford, First Congregational Church in Guilford, and North Madison Congregational Church.

Gini King, co-coordinator of Shoreline Interfaith Resettlement and member of the First Congregational Church, said the churches’ efforts are at the heart of their mission.

“For years our worship service begins with the statement, ‘No matter who you are, or where you are on your life journey, you are welcome here.’ Welcoming refugee families is a natural way to fulfill this declaration of faith. With these families there have been personal joys and a sense of accomplishment, like finding a job worthy of the person’s skills, ”King said.

According to Karen Goldberg of Temple Beth Tikvah, the group is also carrying out its mission. Goldberg said that having people of different faiths, backgrounds and cities working together is a direct way for the community to welcome a stranger.

“[W]At Beth Tikvah Temple, we are very committed to helping refugees. The Torah mentions the idea of ​​“welcoming the stranger” more than 30 times. We are also reminded that we were “once strangers in a strange land”. In fact, many of our members were immigrants from Eastern Europe and were forced to flee during WWII, so this cause is close to our hearts, ”said Goldberg. “Interfaith resettlement on land allows us to come together to do something good and just for our fellow men. It’s our turn to give back. “

The Guilford and Madison organizations in collaboration with IRIS have helped sponsor refugees, especially Afghans in recent years. Participants in an organizational meeting heard a moving testimony from an Afghan family that was sponsored by several of the member organizations in 2018 in collaboration with IRIS.

In 2018, Zahir Azeemi and his family were sponsored after he, his wife and child fled their beloved homeland when their life situation became too dangerous due to Azeemi’s occupation as a translator.

Azeemi spoke fondly of the organization and gave a powerful testimony to his family’s flight from their war-torn homeland, as well as the support and generosity they have received since becoming strangers. in a foreign country.

“They have done so much for us. They helped us find a house and also helped me find a job, ”Azeemi said. “They helped my wife learn English. They showed us and took us to grocery stores and showed us how to shop. They have done so much for us. They helped us a lot. And I think they can help this new family.

Azeemi was an interpreter for several organizations in Helmand province, one of the most dangerous regions of the country. His duties included working for the US Marine Corps, US Special Forces, and a non-governmental organization (NGO).

He survived several attacks, once narrowly missed by a sniper bullet, another when his wife discovered a car bomb under the front seat of their car just as Azeemi was about to start the vehicle.

“I have been targeted several times, several times. One day I was drinking a bottle of water and someone shot me, ”Azeemi said. “It was still dangerous.”

Many Afghan refugees are concentrating around the West Haven area due to access to halal food and a mosque, but Azeemi says his dream is to someday buy a house in Branford for his family.

According to King, the group has a leadership team made up of representatives from the five congregations and the community as well as the chairs of eight work teams: housing, apartment planning, education, health care, finance, employment, transportation and Home. The goal is to try to make families independent within a year.

King stressed that now more than ever, kindness and generosity are needed globally and locally.

“In an era when anti-immigration and anti-diversity voices were heard across the country, in Madison and Guilford with the Education Council elections, welcoming an Afghan refugee family reflects a loving moral value and inclusive, ”King said. “These are the motivations of volunteers, partner congregations and community sympathizers. If we can save a family from being killed in Afghanistan and ensure their safety and well-being, we bear witness of kindness and justice for all immigrants and refugees.

Volunteers and donations are needed for all the necessities of life. Organizers ask would-be helpers to imagine that they were dumped in the middle of Afghanistan and had to work their way through customs, language, and everyday issues such as shopping and school .

IRIS estimates that he will need $ 10,000 to $ 20,000 in the year he works with the family. Most of these funds will go to rent and utilities, while other needs will go.

Those who wish to volunteer are welcome to join a work team that includes hospitality, education, healthcare, employment and apartment furnishings. For more information, email Gini King at [email protected]

To donate money, visit, “Donate” tab, “Refugee Fund” button or send a contribution to First Congregational Church, 122 Broad Street, Guilford, CT 06437 with “Refugee Fund” in the memo line. Donations are tax deductible.

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