It’s been nearly two years since the U.S. Department of State resettled seventeen year old Sorayya and her family in Chicago. Members of an ethnic minority, the family fled violence and persecution in Afghanistan.
Chicago Foundation for Women grantee RefugeeOne, a refugee resettlement agency, was ready and waiting when Sorayya, her mother and three siblings arrived in Chicago. Each year, RefugeeOne helps hundreds of refugees build a new life in Chicago.
After five years living as refugees in Turkey, Sorayya is happy to be settled into her new home and life in Chicago.
“In Turkey you easily can feel this difference: you are not Turkish, you are Afghan. You are always told ‘you are Afghan, you can’t do this, you can’t buy a house,’ because we were refugees,” she says. “In America, people never say ‘you’re a refugee.’”
“America gave us a chance.”
RefugeeOne arranged housing and financial assistance with rent and bills while Sorayya’s mother found a job. A RefugeeOne caseworker helped the family settle into the daily life many of us take for granted, everything from making doctor appointments to enrolling the children in school.
RefugeeOne also helped the family cope with the emotional tolls and stress of resettlement.
With support from Chicago Foundation for Women, the Women’s Health Project at RefugeeOne provides all newly-arrived refugee women with mental and physical health screenings, and offers resources to help manage their health, including medical assistance, therapy and educational workshops.
Reports of anxiety and depression among refugees spiked due to uncertainty around the U.S. refugee program, making access to mental health care more important than ever.
The Women’s Health Project helped Sorayya’s mother Sakina cope with stress from adjusting to a new culture and left her feeling better equipped to navigate her family’s new life. “I’m trying to stand on my own feet,” she says, via interpreter.
“I’m a free woman now,” she adds.
With this newfound sense of freedom, Soraryya and her family are blossoming.
In Afghanistan, Sorayya’s school took pains to hide the fact that girls were being educated inside. “It [was] scary. You want to go to school like other people, but you can’t,” she says.
Now a junior in high school, Sorayya dreams of one day championing women’s rights as a lawyer.
“I have seen with my eyes” the violence women experience, she says. “I want to defend the women.”