By Kathy Bratkowski
St. Louis is rolling out the welcome mat for immigrants and refugees from Afghanistan. Welcome Neighbor St. Louis is one of the many agencies that is smoothing the transition for families who escaped Kabul when the Taliban took over the country in August 2021.
Eleven members of the Niazai family came to St. Louis to build a new life. Thanks to the International Institute, Welcome Neighbor St. Louis, Oasis International and other local agencies, the family is thriving in their new home. Raja Niazai, his father and his uncle are working at a local health care linen company. The children are enrolled in school and learning English. A van was donated to the family. And they recently bought a house in south St. Louis.
Volunteers are paired with the families to help them transition to a new life. Welcome Neighbor family partners say they benefit greatly from the friendship with these new arrivals.
Madeleine Grucza, family support coordinator for Welcome Neighbor St. Louis, has partnered with a family from Syria for a number of years. “I had no idea what having a relationship with a family from another country would do,” she says. “I can’t even imagine not having them in my life.” Oasis International has a similar program that pairs immigrant and refugee families with volunteers.