From refugee to homeowner: The power of mission work
Editor's Note: Walt Mathias, member of Honeoye Falls UMC; Leon Perkins, member of Rush UMC; and Peter Baldwin and Jim Kanaleyof Iona UMC received a $2,500 Everyday Disaster grant from the United Methodists of Upper New York Missional Engagement Ministry Area for their carpentry work in the homes of refugees in the Rochester area. Ahmad Ibrahimi is one of the refugees they have helped. His story follows.
Imagine yourself being in a new country, new city, and far away from all your family and everything that was familiar. That is what 34-year-old Ahmad Ibrahimi, his wife, Shugufa; and their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Muskaan; had to face when they had to flee their home in Afghanistan.
In 2021, when President Biden decided to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, it cast a veil of uncertainty over the future for numerous local Afghans who had dedicated their efforts to supporting the United States and its allies. Among those affected was Ahmad, a former translator for the US Embassy in Afghanistan.
Ahmad said, “I never wanted to leave my home, my country, until the Taliban announced that they have forgiven everyone except interpreters. After that announcement, I called my pregnant wife and my daughter to come to our base and I had to leave my sick mom and my sister, who were living with me, alone. I was on the base for three months and was not allowed to go home for security reasons and I couldn't see my mom and my sister and get a goodbye hug, which still to this day, hurts me.”
Ahmad, his wife, and daughter sought asylum in the United States and were brought to Fort Dix in New Jersey in August of 2021. It was there that Ahmad and Shugufa found out they were having twins.
Ahmad said, “I walked in (the OBGYN exam room) and saw my wife cheering and crying; she and I were so shocked and happy when told we were having twins, a boy and a girl.”
In October 2021, Ahmad and his family resettled in Rochester, NY and were blessed with a rental property in the Maplewood neighborhood, which is home to refugees from Burma, Afghanistan, Nepal, Somalia, Ethiopia, Togo, South Sudan, and several other countries. Rochester Refugee Resettlement Services (RRRS) owns 80 other properties in Rochester and rents homes specifically to refugees.
Ahmad was so impressed with his new home. He said, “The house was so clean and beautiful. The kitchen looked brand-new with brand-new cabinetry!”
When houses are acquired by RRRS, they are in rough shape, but thanks to four United Methodists who volunteer for the agency, homes like Ahmad’s are expediently repaired and remodeled with a fresh coat of paint throughout.
Ahmad, who now works as a case manager for RRRS, said, “Before we came to Rochester, Walt, Leon, Pete, and Jim did some amazing work for my home. They do remarkable work all the time. They are great volunteers and make a huge difference. They completely remodel houses when they are acquired and whenever tenets move out, they need to do a complete rehab and multiple repairs. It’s tough work and they do a wonderful job.”
Ahmad and Shugufa’s daughter, Parisaan, and son, Subhaan were born Jan. 22, 2022.
Walt, Leon, Pete, and Jim have come to know Ahmad very well through coordinating work from RRRS. Pete said, “Ahmad is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. He is so grateful despite being uprooted like he was.”
Walt said, “I agree. Ahmad is so nice. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
Ahmad loves Rochester.
He said, “It was not our choice to come to Rochester; It was the (IOM) International Office for Migration’s decision. But from the first day we came to Rochester I started liking it, I like all the trees and greenery here. There is not too much traffic, I love the four seasons here, and the five lakes, and sweet waters. It’s so beautiful.”
Ahmad has just closed on a home of his own, also in the Maplewood neighborhood.
He said, “The home is ancient! It will need new carpeting and a lot of cleaning! And all the windows and doors are broken.”
Even though his new house will need a lot of work, Ahmad is ecstatic. He exclaimed, “I feel so great to have a home of my very own!”
Ahmed will look to Walt, Leon, Pete, and Jim for many carpentry tips.