We welcome the Noristani family fortunate enough to escape the confusion and chaos resulting from the transition of power in war-torn Afghanistan.
The family of seven includes father, mother and five young children who have found a home here at the South-East Asia Center through the help of Refugee One, another local organization instrumental in helping to place the more than 1,500 Afghans who it is anticipated will make their homes in the Chicago area.
“Our center has its roots in the Southeast-Asian-refugee era helping to resettle refugees from that all-too parallel conflict,” says Peter Porr a Vietnam-era vet who returned to the country, still in conflict, for four years as a civilian to “try to do something positive there.” After returning to the U.S. Porr continued his immigration and refugee work in Chicago serving as Executive Director of South-East Asia Center for 31 years, currently as SEAC President. “I just could not see how we could stand by and not do our share to help during this most recent refugee crisis just as many Americans had helped us back in the 70’s.”
The South-East Asia Center proudly claims its place as the last official settlement house in Chicago, a term that harkens back to the familiar Hull House, designating a community-based social service center that provides assistance to a local community by volunteers and staff who actually live on-site in the neighborhood that they serve.
In this case co-founders Peter Porr and San O have continuously lived and worked from the office and David Tom Settlement House on Ainslie Street together with various staff and clients over more than thirty-five years. It is on this block of vintage row houses that the Noristanis have made their new home. The four bedroom townhouse with a bath-and-a-half, perfect for this young family, is being provided by SEAC rent free for three months. Refugee One will pick up the rent for another three months and also cover utility costs giving the family a good six months to get established.
The added benefit to the Noristanis is that SEAC has on-site childcare through the Bridge International School, focused on development and educational activities for infants through 12 year-olds where all five children were able to plug into for the full-day program during CPS break. SEAC has also been able to provide the father with paid employment as a maintenance assistant where he is getting training in plumbing, carpentry, electric, grounds maintenance, and auto repair while he works on his English and cultural acclimation. In the meantime Mom is helping her infant and two-year old to acclimate themselves to their classes. It is planned that the school-age children will enroll in Goudy Elementary after the holiday break.
“During the school year the older kids can attend our after-school program and continue the additional language skills and cross-cultural learning they will need to be successful in school and life, while the parents can avail themselves of our ESL and citizenship classes. We are in a unique position to offer the entire family from infant through adults much of the support they need,” Says Porr.
Community members looking to help can do so by volunteering as an ESL tutor or Pashto language interpreter. People of any age can volunteer to be a friend, mentor, big brother to the boys ages five and seven or a big sister to the ten year old girl. Grandmother/ grandfather mentorship is also very much needed. There are a myriad of things to learn in a very new urban culture. Emotional support is equally crucial. Monetary donations to the South-East Asia Center are always welcome and are used to help all of the center’s refugees and immigrants representing 31 ethnicities.
Photo: San O, Peter Porr, Hamidullah Noristani
(by Reno Lovison)