In the middle of August last year, Americans were confronted with chaotic and heartbreaking images of Afghan civilians desperately trying to escape the country as Kabul fell to the Taliban mere days before America officially withdrew from Afghanistan. Many refugees were evacuated to America and other countries, but many more Afghans in need were left behind.
Rhode Island welcomed its first family of Afghan refugees in November 2021. Leading resettlement efforts is Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. From its campuses on Elmwood Avenue, in the coming months they will resettle a total of approximately 250 evacuees: approximately 150 refugees on their own and an additional 100 in collaboration with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.
Through a variety of programs, Dorcas International Institute, a nonprofit, “serves and helps the underserved and anyone who seeks to call Rhode Island home,” explains their public relations director Julie Cofone. “In a nutshell, we aren’t only serving immigrants and refugees, but we’re also serving those here in Rhode Island, wherever they’re coming from, whether they’re native born or not.”
Dorcas International offers a holistic approach, providing all means of aid, including immigration services like legal assistance, language services, work training, mental health counseling, cultural lessons, and necessities like food, housing, clothing, furniture, hygiene products, and more, all under one organization.
“Say you even just take one client – father, mother, children – each individual in the family will need different help,” shares Cofone. “Not just housing. Not just resettlement and legal help to get on the path towards citizenship and staying in America and building your American life, but everything else that goes with it from clothing supplies to the furnishing of the apartment to health care and navigating some of these systems in Rhode Island, navigating public school, navigating after-school child care, anything that they need to help them catch up.”
The 150 Afghan refugees Dorcas International is resettling are in addition to the 150 they take annually from countries like Guatemala, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iraq, totalling 300 refugees in 2021.
The immediate response to the withdrawal from Afghanistan in Rhode Island was incredible, according to Cofone. “Ever since the news broke and started sort of turning up in everyone’s living room, our email and phones started ringing with people wanting to help, knowing, thinking in their minds, ‘Will we have them coming here? Are people coming to Rhode Island? We want to help.’”
Cofone shares three main ways Rhode Islanders can help. The first is monetary donations. “We know 250 people are coming, but that’s give or take. We don’t know the family sizes – are they families, are they individuals, how old are the kids, what are the kids’ needs, what is the health of the family or individuals?” Because there’s a lot of information about the resettled refugees they won’t know until about a week before arrival, Cofone explains, “The monetary donations are very helpful. It allows resettlement efforts to be spent on goods, housing, medical – anything that’s needed for the people coming.”
The second way to help is by donating household goods, from used clothing and furniture to hygiene products, cleaning products, and baby items like diapers. Third, Dorcas needs volunteers, both for pre-arrival needs like moving assistance and apartment set up and post-arrival efforts such as mentoring families and helping them acclimate to tasks like grocery shopping and paying bills. For those who have the space, this can also include volunteering your home or an apartment for refugees in need of temporary housing.
Meanwhile, Dorcas International reached a milestone in 2021: 100 years of supporting immigrants in Rhode Island. They’ll be celebrating their centennial on June 23 this summer at WaterFire Arts Center, along with hosting several smaller events leading up to it.
For more information about how to help Afghan refugees resettling in Rhode Island, visit AfghanReliefRI.org
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