‘I couldn’t believe how kind and welcoming everyone in our group was.’ Zarlasht’s story of rebuilding her life two years after the Taliban took over Afghanistan
On the weekends, Zarlasht plays basketball at the local YMCA, often with strangers looking for a pick-up game. Slowly, her community in the United States is expanding––beginning to feel more like home.
Every now and then, though, when Zarlasht steps onto the court, her mind floods with memories of her old life in Afghanistan: of endless practices with her fellow teammates on the National Afghan Women’s Basketball team, of late nights working tirelessly on the Afghan Human Rights Commission, and of weekends spent with her eldest sister, who remains in Afghanistan with her husband and three children.
Having earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on a U.S. Embassy scholarship, where she also played basketball, and later been selected as a semi-finalist for the Fulbright program – which she was unable to pursue due to the conflict in Afghanistan – Zarlasht was a leader in her community and led a life that was full of possibilities.
Zarlasht’s steadfast vision of the future came crashing down, however, when the Taliban seized control of Kabul in August 2021. Her family’s primary goal became safety and survival.
On August 19, Zarlasht, her two brothers, and their parents made the difficult decision to leave Afghanistan, while her eldest sister was forced to stay behind to care for her son, who has a life-threatening medical condition.
“We stayed for two nights at the airport. It was a disaster. It was really one of the worst situations you could ever imagine,” said Zarlasht.
Two days later, her family made the journey to Germany, where she said they had minimal access to food, water, or sufficient clothing to keep warm.
Ater ten days in Germany, they at last arrived in the United States, where they lived at a military base in Richmond, Virginia, before moving to Boston on October 15, 2021.
It was then that Zarlasht and her family were introduced to Catholic Charities’ Refugee and Immigrant Services (RIS) Parishes/People Organized to Welcome Immigrants and Refugees (POWIR) program that connects refugees in need to volunteers who help provide housing, transportation, food, basic needs items, medical resources, and advising on academic and career opportunities.
“When we arrived in Boston, I couldn’t believe how kind and welcoming everyone in our group was,” Zarlasht said. “They provided us with a home as soon as we arrived and with everything we needed.”
That night, for the first time in months, the family slept soundly in their new home in Somerville, knowing they had a roof over their heads and a strong support system around them.
“Being able to welcome Zarlasht and her parents alongside the amazingly dedicated and resourceful Reading RIS POWIR team on a beautiful, sunny day in mid-October 2021 was truly a gift for all of us,” said Marjean Perhot, Vice President of Refugee and Immigrant Services.
In the weeks that followed, Zarlasht said the members of her RIS POWIR group grew from strangers to trusted mentors and companions, reminding her that there was hope for brighter days ahead.
“They helped me apply for food assistance, medical insurance, home insurance, and they helped me schedule doctor’s appointments for my mom, for my parents, and for me. They truly made such a difference for us,” said Zarlasht.
Beyond meeting with Zarlasht every week to review her career goals and identify employment opportunities, the members of Zarlasht’s RIS POWIR group connected her to a career coach from Jewish Vocational Services, who helped Zarlasht strengthen her resume and eventually secure a position for Catholic Charities Boston’s Refugee and Immigrant Services Department as a paralegal, where she now works with Afghan refugees arriving in the U.S.
“I love helping people. It makes me happy, especially when it comes to helping my own people because I know they have been through a lot. I’m one of them. We all evacuated together. I can relate. I can sympathize,” said Zarlasht.
“Zarlasht is an example of how we in Catholic Charities RIS are committed long-term to helping refugees restart their lives; by offering good jobs with pathways for professional growth and at the same time allowing refugees to give back to the community,” said Marjean.
Today, two years after the Taliban takeover, Zarlasht said she feels secure, emotionally and financially.
Last year, she and her parents moved into an apartment of their own. While Zarlasht goes to work at the Labouré Center, her parents take local English classes, growing more and more self-sufficient in their new community every week.
Zarlasht says the staff at Catholic Charities made all the difference in her life, including both those who helped her with resettlement and those she now works alongside.
“We are not just colleagues,” she said. “We are all friends.”
Now, she gains strength from being a friend to others in need.
“Every time I get to help move a client forward in their case, I feel happy knowing they too have found hope,” she said.
To learn more about Catholic Charities Boston’s RIS POWIR/Community Sponsorship sites, and how you can get involved, click here.
Read more about Zarlasht’s story in WGBH’S piece, Two years later, Afghan evacuees in Massachusetts face uncertainty.