After years of helping the US military, Afghan refugees turn to community advocate for help in a new country

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During the severe winter storm in February, Gultawarkhan Hussain Guy was driving on the south side when a man robbed him at gunpoint.

The thief stole his wallet with all his credentials and left. Originally from Afghanistan, Guy, 39, had been in the United States for about a year. Cold, shivering in the snow, a question burned in Guy’s mind: “Could this happen here?” “

Dressed in a t-shirt, jeans and sandals, he made his way through the galleries and motioned for drivers to stop unsuccessfully. Then a young woman stopped her car and drove it to safety.

Angry, he called Farhana Khan, founder of the non-profit Razakaar foundation, and told her about his situation. The Razakaar Foundation provides refugee clients and their families with access to health care, education, employment and additional resources.

“We are like an advocate for patients,” Khan said. “Our clients have a language or educational barrier, and we help them get on the right track. Having someone to help them is very crucial.

While working with Catholic Charities, Khan helped Guy reapply to replace his credentials.

The Good Samaritan reaffirmed Guy’s belief that more Americans were like her than the man who stole her. She represents the America he served and wants for his sons, far from the bombings, violence and death in Afghanistan.

Khan’s foundation helps refugees become independent and self-sufficient. Razakaar’s services include resources for food, clothing, furniture and other household items.

A certified community health worker, Khan established the foundation in November. Its staff includes an administrative assistant and a human resources volunteer. In February, she partnered with the Health Collaborative, a network of residents, businesses and agencies coming together to improve the health of the Bexar County community.

“They have been an important bridge for me to understand how these services work,” Khan said.

Farhana Khan, founder of the Razakaar Foundation, helps refugees seek independence by providing them with access to health care, ESL classes and employment resources. Kahn, surrounded by the sons of Gultawarkhan Hussain Guy, who arrived in Texas from Afghanistan 16 months ago, helps him understand how to manage a medical bill.

Jessica Phelps / San Antonio Express-News

Elizabeth Lutz, director of the Health Collaborative, said Khan is paving the way for more community members to feel recognized as part of building solutions in the city.

“When we think of the immigrant refugee community, we immediately think of what is familiar to us,” said Lutz. “San Antonio is predominantly a Hispanic population and we certainly have families from Spanish speaking cultures. It is important for us to recognize that we have many cultures here in San Antonio. It is important to include these voices, and Farhana has been a leader in ensuring and advocating for this to come together. “

Months after the frost, Guy invited Khan over to lunch as a thank you for all she had done for her family.

“She solves my problems,” said Guy, 39, in the North Side apartment he shares with his wife and four sons. “We really appreciate this.”

The living room rug was loaded with cooking from Guy’s native Afghanistan. Thin loaves of naan, floured bread, long filled plates. Apples, bananas and grapes filled a large bowl. Shimmering golden chicken pieces in a red sauce.

After working with the US military for 15 years, Guy arrived in San Antonio 16 months ago with two boxes, a suitcase and hopes for peace for his family.

Memories of the war in Afghanistan still cling to him like the embrace of a cold morning.

“My mind is slowly improving,” he said.

Catholic Charities helped Guy move into an apartment before his family arrived, and he arrested Khan on one of his neighborhood visits and told him he wanted to be one of his clients.

Khan, a married mother of three, works with 28 families, for a total of 120 people. Among its clients are immigrants who have fled war, famine and religious persecution in Afghanistan, Bhutan, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq. , Nepal, Myanmar and Syria. Since 2010, more than 10,000 people have resettled in San Antonio through Catholic charities (through an agreement with the US State Department) and RAICES (Center for Education and Legal Services for Refugees and immigrants).

Khan said 80 percent of his job is coordinating health care. Refugees have flagged health care as a critical issue, according to a report by the National Center for Biotechnology. Illnesses related to previous living conditions include hypertension, gastrointestinal infections, and malnutrition.

Since the start of the epidemic, Khan has encouraged his clients to get vaccinated. Recently, she received a grant for COVID-19 education through the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta to reach underserved people.

“I have not received any resistance from my refugee clients,” Khan said. “They ask questions and I guide them. This is our goal.

Khan holds a BS in Dietetics from the University of Connecticut, an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration, and a Certificate in Community Health from Northwest Vista College.

Khan’s commitment to its customers extends beyond working hours. She receives calls from clients for a variety of issues, including being by their side for medical procedures, surgeries and dental appointments. Khan said it was common to take her laptop with her on vacation to answer emergency calls.

Working with global organizations in the past has sparked his interest in supporting refugees. In July 2018, Khan volunteered for Humanity First International for six months and attended conferences in England and Geneva, Switzerland to learn more about the refugee crisis.

Another motivation for his work was “The Kite Runner”, a novel by Khaled Hosseini about life in Afghanistan.

“The book moved me to the point that I couldn’t sleep at night,” Khan said.

She is a familiar presence in the refugee community, often crowded with crowds when visiting an immigrant. This was the scene at Wurzbach Manor Apartments during the delivery of mattresses by VetStrong, a non-profit organization that provides furniture to veterans and refugees.

Residents of all ages surrounded Khan as she confirmed deliveries for customers with James Pobanz, the founder of VetStrong. Teenage girls seeking help for their parents put her phone number on their cell phones. After the delivery van left, Khan stayed to speak with the residents who turned to him for advice.

After lunch, Guy sat down with Khan and his four sons, Monawar Hussain, 17, Gul Nawar, 14, Mir Abas, 13, and Abdullah Hussain, 9, to talk about the challenges he had to overcome. . His first job was as a fruit processor before driving a taxi 16 hours a day.

Guy envisions a day when his sons will have successful careers as lawyers, engineers and doctors.

In turn, they recognized their father’s sacrifice on their behalf.

“I want to help humanity; we are all people, ”said Mir Abas. “All of my studies and our arrival in the United States are due to my father. “

Khan thanked the family for the meal and the sons for their manners. Then she went to a nearby apartment complex to see Habib, a client who also worked for the US military in Afghanistan. Khan asked about the health of the man sitting at a bench – he had recently recovered from the coronavirus.

Two years ago, a friend introduced Habib to Khan, who helped him with the children’s hospital appointments and school admission forms.

“I love my new country,” he said. “Life was dangerous in Afghanistan. I am quiet here.

In the future, Khan hopes to work on human rights and global health projects. But now she is focusing on her clients. Each visit to a family’s home is one more step towards new opportunities in their new homeland while preserving their culture.

“It has always been very positive feedback,” said Khan. “The refugees are grateful; They work very hard. They want to become productive citizens of society.

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