PORT TOWNSEND — This family of three has traveled, again and again, into the unknown.
Evacuated from Afghanistan along with tens of thousands of refugees, Ali, Storya and their daughter Nihal, 2, flew to Qatar, then Germany.
Then they were flown to the United States, where planeloads of Afghans came to wait at a military base in New Jersey.
Ali, 31, had worked for what he called an “intelligence agency” assisting U.S. forces in their fight against the Taliban. Remaining in his home country, now under Taliban rule, would endanger his family and his life. Even now he doesn’t want his surname published in an American newspaper.
In February, Storya, Nihal and Ali traveled across another continent: North America, on their way to Port Townsend.
Through the U.S. government’s Sponsor Circles program, the family connected with a small group of women and men on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Jefferson County Immigrant Rights Advocates (JCIRA) had formed a sponsor circle, complete with a place for them to live for a year.Their snug apartment is an ADU, an accessory dwelling unit at Linda Jangaard and Stan Jonasson’s home. It’s not far from Chetzemoka Park, where the family went on a recent afternoon.
While Storya and Nihal played on the park swings, Ali and the members of the JCIRA sponsor circle talked about the future.
Ali is eager to find work in the medical field, while Storya, who is in her 20s, wants to continue her education. As they have begun to learn English, the couple has let their sponsors know of these hopes.
Larry Jensen of Port Ludlow is a sponsor circle member and a spokesperson for the Afghan family, who primarily speak Pashto. As different as the culture is in this far corner of America, Ali and Storya are seeking to start a new life here, Jensen said. In presentations to the Rotary Clubs of East Jefferson County and Port Townsend, he has sought to explain how — and why — sponsor circles and JCIRA work.
“One of the ideals of our country is that we welcome those who need help,” Jensen said, adding that ideal is one of the reasons he is devoted to the United States of America. After retiring and moving to Jefferson County from Omaha, Neb., he found kindred spirits at JCIRA.
The nonprofit organization supports and witnesses for immigrant families, helps them connect with free or low-cost legal aid and advocates for their interests on the national, state and local levels.
At JCIRA.org, the members have posted information about their various efforts, as well as about the Afghan Readjustment Act, a Congressional bill that would give protected immigration status to families such as Ali and Storya’s.
Monetary support is needed too. The goal, Jensen said, is for the family to be self-sufficient, but the path is lined with challenges.
Studying English, finding housing, landing jobs, navigating transportation, enrolling in school: Storya, Nihal and Ali will contend with these while adjusting to a small town where they can’t find their traditional foods or go to a mosque.
With all of the troubles in the world, Jensen and his fellow JCIRA sponsors focus their energy both locally and globally: They have connected with this small family, in Port Townsend of all places. JCIRA, Jensen said, is dedicated to helping immigrants and refugees — who like Ali, Storya and Nihal could not safely stay in their native country — receive fair treatment.
“We’re all human beings. Sometimes we get help; sometimes we give help,” said Jean Walat, who is co-chair with Jensen of JCIRA’s board of directors.
“Right now I feel like I’m in a position to give help,” she said, while also learning about culture beyond borders.
“Meeting this family has been wonderful. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them,” added JCIRA member Ruth Asare.
“We do manage to communicate,” Jensen said. Nihal is a charmer, chattering and singing when her parents get together with their JCIRA friends.
“It’s really a fulfilling effort to assist them,” Jensen said.
“They have a long way to go,” he acknowledged.
“But they’re on their way.”
Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz @peninsuladailynews.com.