May 28Khatira’s Story
Immigration. It’s a powerful word that is charged with a myriad of different meanings and emotions. In the debate over how America handles its immigration, this word has become a source of political posturing and painted with broad strokes by the media. Too often, the personal stories of those who immigrate are never heard and their individual sacrifice and struggle are never recognized. The path toward achieving the American dream is not for the weak or the weary, but rather for those with the fortitude to work hard, swallow their pride, and hope for a little luck to build a better life for themselves and their family.
Khatira learned the value of working hard from her parents while growing up in Afghanistan. She came from an affluent family, so it was natural for her to want to attend university and Khatira did just that. Although not common for a woman, she earned a law degree in Afghanistan and began working in the legal field where she focused her attention on women’s rights.
Her husband, also highly educated, spent almost 15 years working as a translator for the U.S. Army. Together, Khatira and her husband were able to live a comfortable lifestyle while they started their family surrounded by the religious and cultural traditions they had known all their lives.
As the political climate of their Afghan town changed, Khatira and her husband were encouraged to immigrate to the U.S. due to increased safety concerns related to his work. Filled with much anticipation and hope, and with aid from the U.S. government and a local resettlement agency in Denver, they packed up their three young children (the youngest just six months old) and left their family and friends behind.
Their new life would start in Denver, Colorado at Grace Apartments.
Grace Apartments is a Mercy Housing community located in southeast Denver and 100% of its residents are either immigrants or refugees. Families primarily come from Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Burma, Bhutan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Transitioning into American society was difficult. “We faced a lot of obstacles and barriers and it was not easy.” Not only was Khatira faced with the language barrier, but also the realization that the standard of living they were accustomed to in Afghanistan, didn’t translate to Denver.
“We felt like we fell down from the sky,” said Khatira of her family’s need to basically start life over from the ground up. Neither Khatira nor her husband’s education status transferred to the U.S. and her husband had to take a job earning much lower wages doing manual labor. Khatira was faced with over three years of additional schooling to regain the same educational level she had in Afghanistan.
“It’s very difficult to know where you were 30 years ago…it’s not easy to start from the beginning again.”
Despite all the setbacks, Khatira was determined to make a better life for herself and her family.
Khatira began utilizing the many resident services that are offered at Grace Apartments. Talie, Resident Services Coordinator, introduced Khatira to several programs specific to her needs and has been instrumental in Khatira’s journey. The first hurdle was English. Khatira started taking ESL classes sponsored by the Spring Institute of Intercultural Learning and worked diligently to improve her skills. After two semesters she conquered that challenge and was ready for the next one.
Talie also helped Khatira fill out applications for admittance to the Community College of Aurora, where she is now working toward a paralegal certificate and was recently nominated for the Student of the Year award. Additionally, Talie assisted her with job applications and gave her a mock interview to help her prepare for a position at the Spring Institute of Intercultural Learning. Now, Khatira proudly expresses that she recently accepted a position there as a Policy Advocate.
Other staff members have also had a profound influence on Khatira’s family. David, After School Program Manager, runs Out-Of-School Time (OST) where Khatira sends her two oldest children and says all the residents know him as “Dad of the Grace.” The OST program focuses on providing a safe, supervised environment where all school-age kids are welcome to participate. David assists with homework, helps kids develop leadership skills, and educates on the importance of being inclusive. It also gives them a place to be creative and have fun!
“The resources Grace Apartments have for us, have helped us. You can discuss problems openly and they take care of them. We need these people and they are taking care of us.”
The culmination of all these programs and the countless individual actions by the staff have provided a pathway for Khatira and her family to follow. She gives credit to Mercy Housing for supporting her on this journey and helping her succeed in all areas of her life since she’s immigrated. Expressing this gratitude brings tears to Khatira’s eyes. She can’t even imagine how different life would have been had they moved anywhere else.
Her strength and determination to succeed haven’t gone unnoticed. Talie has met many residents in her role and recognizes the hard work and effort Khatira has put in to get ahead.
“Khatira is a name that you should remember because this woman is going places! Of all the things I admire about her, her determination to succeed and her commitment to being a voice for her community are two qualities that will serve her well as she begins this next chapter of her life in the U.S. With all that she has accomplished during her first two years in the U.S., I can’t wait to see where she is in five years and 10 years,” said Talie.
While the outlook looked very dismal early on, the future for Khatira and her family now looks bright and she is hopeful for good things in her life. She feels she owes so much to Mercy Housing’s Grace Apartments for helping her get there.
Khatira confides, “because I got this job, now I have dreams in my life…to have a house and enroll my kids in good education. At first it was difficult to dream about these things, but now we have some hope.”
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