We can all play a part in this homecoming story

Hundreds of Afghan evacuees will be calling Nebraska home, and we can be an engaged, positive part of their new reality.

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The images from Kabul were staggering: thousands of Afghans crowding the airport, desperate to leave. Since 2001, more than 300,000 Afghans have worked with the United States – taking on jobs such as interpreters, cultural advisors, translators, and other support roles in our efforts there. With the Taliban seizing control in August, those jobs put them and their families in imminent danger.

Their fear was clear. Some attempted to jump on half-open aircraft ramps. Others tried to cling to spinning engines. Still others lost their lives while attempting to flee.

It was devastating to watch. I consider myself privileged. I have never had to run onto an open tarmac and literally fight for a chance to live. I have never had to escape from my country in a panic over what will happen to me if I am forced to stay. I can’t imagine how the “lucky” ones feel – those who departed and are on their way to the United States. What I do know is that a difficult adjustment awaits and that their stories have been changed forever.

Nebraska will be part of that story. Local organizations have been preparing to receive an estimated 700-plus Afghan refugees in our state. Community leaders are forming plans as well as pooling and streamlining resources in anticipation of receiving our newest community members.

I’m not an official volunteer for any of our refugee resettlement agencies. But do I know I can play a part – and that we all can, too. We already know that local needs continue to grow due to a variety of disparities, because of COVID-19, because of any number of other circumstances. Fellow Nebraskans need pantry assistance, financial support, and other help. So, it’s important that we continue to address our existing needs and welcome individuals that will soon become our co-workers, neighbors, and friends.

Co-creating an environment of support and welcome will matter in this story. One guiding principle that I center in my daily life is always put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This helps bring perspective and clarity; if I had to escape my home country to fight for my life, to flee to a foreign country and learn a new culture and customs, new language, and a new community, I would be intimidated to say the least. I would be scared. I wouldn’t have a clue where to start.

That’s where we come in.

By educating ourselves, we can be useful. That’s what led me to the Refugee Empowerment Center. The Omaha-based nonprofit shares many ways anyone can help prepare for what will be a very busy resettlement year. Donating dollars, buying products that support the mission of refugee-serving agencies, and gifting lightly-used items are at the top of the Center’s list.

National social impact organizations also offer up a variety of material that can add to our understanding of how to best welcome refugees. I encourage you to spend a few minutes with these resources and think about how you can get involved.

Nebraska is home to families that have lived here for generations. We are home to transplants from other states, and will soon be home to more friends from around the globe. We all belong.

Our Afghan friends will add to our state’s diversity, making our community more beautiful, stronger, and more magical. In this crucial moment, let’s embrace our new compatriots as they create a new, joyful chapter in their stories.

Liz Codina supports local efforts to build thriving communities in the Omaha area. Previously, she worked for nonprofit agencies in program management and development roles. She is among the leaders of the South Omaha Business Association and is vice-president of the Metro Young Latino Professionals Association.

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