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Behind the effort to help Afghan refugees feel at home in Tucson

Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest is preparing to welcome Afghan refugees that are making their way to Tucson.
Posted at 9:12 AM, Sep 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-14 12:40:59-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Refugees from Afghanistan are being resettled across the U.S., and soon some will be landing in Tucson.

Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest is one of the organizations preparing to help them. The team is expecting about 25 refugees to land in Tucson this week.

LSS-SW case managers provide refugees with essentials including a furnished apartment and food, along with help learning English and finding a job.
President and CEO Connie Phillips says the program is designed to help refugees become self-sufficient over the course of about three months.

“It is meant for us to help people get on their feet as quickly as possible,” she said Monday. “To be able to earn their own living, pay for their own expenses, raise their families in the educational system… integrate into this life.”

Phillips says that can be extremely difficult for some refugees, and that each person’s experience depends on where they lived in their home country.

“It’s really beyond most of our ability to understand how enormous this is,” she said. “Our staff, many of them have already come as refugees, they have that lived experience.”

According to Phillips, about 400 refugees from around the world are expected to arrive in Tucson over the next 12 months—a sharp increase from years past, brought on by the Biden administration’s new policies. She says LSS-SW is prepared for up to 100 Afghan refugees in Tucson.

Alex Biddle is a LSS-SW volunteer who went through training and became a mentor last year for a woman from Afghanistan who was resettled in Tucson.

“I’s really important to understand people’s stories and connect on a person-to-person level,” she said. “It was a really impactful experience getting to learn about her culture, sharing what I know of Tucson, helping her where I could and learning a lot from her.”

Volunteers are often the first friends these refugees meet in their new home. Other volunteers help furnish apartments and collect necessary supplies.

Biddle says she is still friends with her mentee, who followed her passion when getting settled into her new home.

“She expressed a really big interest in yoga and told me that she does yoga almost every day,” Biddle said. “It’s just something that’s helped her through this experience… We were able to get her a full scholarship at Yoga Oasis. So she became a certified yoga teacher through the program and did all of it online. And was really dedicated, in addition to doing English classes and classes for school as well.”

The organization is looking for more community support, especially donations. You can learn more by visiting the organization's website.