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They stress that the hundreds of refugees living in the area need help with things like employment, housing, goods and transportation 

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Shams, left, and Abdul ended up at KP Greens through connections with Lake Oswego volunteers and the organization Portland Refugee Support Group. Their faces are blurred for their protection.

When a coworker at KP Greens accidentally slashed his leg while trying to cut a piece of mylar used for a backyard putting green cup, Shams and Abdul — refugees who recently fled Afghanistan following the takeover of the Taliban — quickly jumped into action.

They closed the wound, put pressure on it and wrapped it with another co-worker's belt.

Shams, for his part, actually learned how to do that at the United States military base he worked at in Kabul before the U.S. left the country and the Taliban returned. Since fleeing, the job at KP Greens has helped him settle into a new life. Shams calls the coworker his friend and brother, and the KP Greens team has become like a family ever since the refugees started working there a few weeks ago.

"I'm very happy right now because my children go to school and my wife goes to take English class and also I have a job. I am also very lucky here because I found this friend. And the other people (here)," said Shams, who speaks some English.

Shams and Abdul ended up at KP Greens through connections with Lake Oswego volunteers and the organization Portland Refugee Support Group, which helps refugees in the area connect with resources and acclimate to life in the United States. While the war in Ukraine has received more national coverage of late, Portland Refugee Support Group employee Soheila Azadi noted that there are around 500 Afghan refugees in the Portland area — and around 1,200 in all of Oregon — who left their home country after the American government left and the Taliban took over in 2021. And they, too, are in need of assistance.

"They are all having to navigate insurance and finding employment and transportation and figuring out everything about American life, while also recovering from having to flee from the Taliban," said support group volunteer Zach Martin.

Azadi, a native of Iran, learned from a friend who was present during the fall of Afghanistan that there were many Afghan refugees who had settled in the Portland area. She decided to volunteer to try to help them, and eventually found the refugee support group. After that, she put a call out on the "Buy Nothing Lake Oswego" Facebook group to ask people to donate items like clothing, furniture, toys and cooking supplies. Porter and others quickly answered the call.

"The amount of support was absolutely overwhelming. There were days where I would give them my address and open my door and see piles of things in front of my house," Azadi said.

Porter said she and others have helped furnish about 25 refugee apartments, and she now is assigned to four families who she helps regularly. She said the work has been the most rewarding she's done in her volunteer career; the people Azadi has helped, she noted, are the same ones who were in the news last August huddled around the Kabul airport trying to find a way out. The vast majority of the refugees the volunteers have worked with were either employed by the American government or the former Afghan government, and are therefore a target of the Taliban — which is why they left the country.

"It's been a community-based effort to find resources, connect with people, get as many people involved as we can. It's been extremely rewarding to see families move into apartments, children doing well, parents getting jobs, becoming self-sufficient, learning about our country," Azadi said, later adding: "They are wonderful people. Their children are wonderful, their families are trying to be successful in the United States and I'm trying to support them in this effort."

Lake Oswego resident Liberty Barnes even took in a teenage Afghan refugee who needed a place to stay. Barnes said the girl attends Lakeridge High School and has been met with generosity from teachers, doctors and others.

"It's wonderful working with her," Barnes said. "She's a part of the family and she has important needs as a new immigrant."

While many volunteers have chipped in, Azadi has found that people in the Portland area show much more enthusiasm about helping Ukrainian refugees than lending a hand to Afghans in the same boat, despite similarly dire circumstances back in their home country.

"Once we say 'Ukrainians' everyone wants to help," she said.

But there are many ways people can help Afghan refugees too — whether that be volunteering to donate goods or working with families like Martin has. Before he started, Martin went through an orientation on trauma and the ways in which a volunteer can help someone recovering from it.

"One of the things we've learned (is) when you've gone through a trauma recently, you're in fight- or-flight mode and it becomes really hard to plan out complex day-to-day stuff, which is really necessary after a big move like that," he said.

Martin has enjoyed playing Scrabble with his assigned family, connecting them with free stuff on Craigslist and enjoying large portions of food from a motherly cook every time he visits.

Along with finding a job, housing is one of the biggest challenges for Afghan refugees. According to Porter and Azadi, many of the refugees have to stay at hotels for months due to the lack of available housing that is affordable to the resettlement agency they're assigned to. Sometimes they have to move from one hotel to another, Azadi added.

And they don't end up staying in Lake Oswego due to the high rental prices here.

"The majority of them either live in southeast (Portland), income-controlled housing, or in the Beaverton area. Many are still in hotels waiting to be housed," Azadi said.

Another aspect that is hard for individuals, Azadi said, is having to move from their former high-skilled occupation in Afghanistan to something totally different here. She has met many people who are certified pilots back home but can't fly planes in America.

"Their degree means nothing here. They have to go through that exam to be able to get back," Azadi said. "The agency puts so much pressure to get a job, which makes sense. They have to be self-sufficient."

A member of Martin's family was a veterinarian in Afghanistan and is now working at a restaurant.

"He had amazing veterinary experience. It's not all relevant to jobs available to him right now. I want to get him a job working in the field with animals," Martin said.

Enjoying his time here

Shams, for his part, said he worked as a security guard for many years out of Camp Morehead in the outskirts of Kabul. Because he worked for the American government, he is a target of the Taliban and fled the country as quickly as he could. He and his family spent four months in New Jersey before reaching their new home on the West Coast. His wife has a baby on the way, due in September. Even though his old life is behind him, Shams exudes enthusiasm and gratitude that he's safe in the U.S. rather than fighting for his life back home.

"Right now, everyone in Afghanistan is in danger. Right now in Afghanistan there is no power, no school, no good food, no good jobs. Everybody right now in Afghanistan lives too hard," he said.

Porter helped Shams find a job as well as get connected with medical services and other resources.

Meanwhile, Kevin Farin, a Lake Oswego resident and owner of KP Greens, got connected with Porter through the Facebook group and expressed an interest in hiring refugees to his company. There, Shams and Abdul help Farin build PGA-quality putting surfaces in backyards. Last week, they worked diligently to cut in the fringe surface for a putting green in Portland. Farin has also helped them with other needs.

"I can't tell you how many people have helped me get the family situated. We got eight-to-nine truckloads of stuff to bring to the families, helped them buy a car, get insurance," he said. "It's a great story of what Lake Oswego can do as a community. And it's a story of people from a different country coming here on hard times and making a life for themselves."

During the shift, the KP Greens workers crack jokes about the time Shams said "bahhh" to tell them what he was eating for lunch, because he didn't know the English word for lamb. When he's not tending to one injured coworker, Shams laughs with another.

"In the short few weeks we've been together, these guys are like family to us," KP Greens employee Shane Aragon said.

For more information on Portland Refugee Support Group, visit www.pdxrsg.org.


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