Thursday, October 21, 2021

First Person: FIT Afghan Aid in Buffalo

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For a weekly close-up look at refugees, we recently took a break from Face-biting on the Chilean coast to check in on people from Afghanistan moving through a new kind of resettlement in Buffalo, N.Y.

The refugees, part of President Obama’s plan to dramatically increase the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. this year, arrive at The Buffalo Youth Resettlement Community in preparation for living in apartments for six to eight months as they learn English and other basic skills. The developers of this project say that rather than leaving at the end of the six months they are facilitating up to two years of integration. Since January, they’ve provided more than a thousand “Females in Training” (FIT) with room and board.

“We are a model program,” says Bill Swald, CEO of Global Green, one of the organizations that helped these 20-somethings find their way from poverty-stricken refugee camps in eastern Afghanistan and another agency, Welcoming America. This partnership allows them to build skills that will translate to a smoother journey when they start working and getting their own housing. Here’s a look at how they live:

Trained in filmmaking, Grace Osheroff heads her own company, Where Cardio Fit Meets Cucumber. Self-taught, the Burmese Christian daughter of immigrants initially moved to the U.S. from Africa to get her master’s in agriculture. After working at a refugee camp in Ghana for several years, she was granted political asylum and is now working toward getting a doctorate in diplomacy. In Buffalo, she’s helped create a new Afghan-American music group called Inti Nagi, which is holding its first public concert in the city this month.

One of the company’s other projects is creating a music video for Afghan pop band, Gur Reeth, with the help of filmmaker Osheroff.

“They have a really beautiful sound,” says Swald.

Gur Reeth’s lead singer, Neda Devi (pictured above), says she’s never recorded before. A dark-haired 26-year-old hailing from Afghanistan’s Paktika province, she’s originally from a traditional farming family, and her father thought she wouldn’t be able to make a living as a singer. She put her ambitions on hold for six years to work on her family’s traditional carpentry business. Then, she says, a member of a local women’s group in Nawa asked if she could make some music. She started recording and showed the video online to get their approval. Many people in the band refer to the woman they call “papadai”—the crazy one—as their “manager”. With her knowledge of the land, Neda Devi says the farmer’s daughter is one of the group’s best-known and most charismatic musicians.

“Music isn’t just for girls anymore,” says Tolo TV’s chief arts and culture anchor, Ken Sharara. “Its become a big communication tool.”

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