Time was running out for Bashir and his family in Kabul.
A wartime interpreter for the U.S. mission for years in Afghanistan, Bashir would frequently go over the border to get life-saving medicine in Pakistan that was not available in Afghanistan. However, as part of the process to get a special immigrant visa, Bashir had to turn over family passports to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, which meant he could no longer go across the border to Pakistan to get his monthly blood work done, and his medicine. In December 2018, he was critically low on medicine with only a three-week supply left.
Meanwhile, Bashir’s daughter, sweet Aisha, was found to have a hole in her heart, and while cheerful, she is very tiny, and needed to be under a specialist’s care.
When Bashir and his family finally got their special immigrant visas, they did not have time to wait weeks or months for travel arrangements. They needed to leave in days, and needed help, and NOLB’s Rochester team of volunteers were there to help.
Emails were quickly exchanged between myself and Bashir in all hours of respective day and nights starting Jan. 14 to figure out the details of this emergency resettlement. During this same period, our chapter was also helping three other families who had arrived from Kabul.
But for our chapter, it was a situation we are prepared to handle with a “can-do spirit” of over 200 volunteers willing to help.
There were two immediate problems we had to tackle: the best place to house this family of three with medical problems, and how to get this family from JFK Airport to Rochester, NY. It was a seven hour drive – right when a major nor’easter snow storm was hitting the east coast, stretching from Washington, D.C., up the coast, and into Canada.
A childhood friend of Bashir who lives in Manitoba, Canada, made the roughly 500-mile journey to JFK to welcome his friends and to provide a hotel until the storm passed and roads were clear.
An apartment was offered at a discount by a generous donor whose father survived the horrors of Nazi Germany in World War II, and he wanted to give back the community.
NOLB donors paid the first month’s rent and security deposit and filled the cabinets and refrigerator with food. Furniture, bedding and dishware were gathered from donations stored at our farm in Mendon, NY — the base for the Rochester chapter.
A “caring circle” was quickly formed for this family, including Dr. Deb Abell who also serves on the NOLB-ROC board, along with retired nurse Lin Vanderstyne, and four other community members who agree to help bring the family food shopping, to medical appointments, and also show them the museums and attractions of this small western New York city.
When the family arrived in the early evening of Jan. 19 – only five days after contacting NOLB while still in Afghanistan – Dr. Abell stopped by for a quick health assessment and review medical records to make sure there was not an emergency, but of course there was a glitch. Customs and Border Patrol agents at JFK had taken the family’s health records, and this was not the first time this happened to an SIV family.
Because of the volunteer support, NOLB was able to make arrangements with Catholic Family Center to get the family immediately into a refugee health center so they could obtain medicine and get much-needed medical check-ups.
And this is literally the day-to-day operation of the Rochester Chapter. We won’t say “no.” If it “can’t be done,” we will find another way to do it.
No One Left Behind is the epitome of human kindness and the American can-do spirit that just works and is alive and well in the volunteers of No One Left Behind.
We are all grateful that we could help this family in their critical hour of need, and welcome them into our Rochester community.