Anne Thorward, vice president of the board for Newcomers Access Center, is passionate about helping those in need, according to the Claremont organization’s website, on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

With open arms

The Newcomers Access Center began in Thorward’s Pomona living room five years ago to help families such as Waziri’s. Since then, the center’s reach has grown significantly, becoming a nonprofit in 2018.

The group empowers refugees and immigrant families to become independent as they establish a home for themselves in America, offering health and wellness workshops, translation services, access to employment opportunities and more.

The center currently serves about 50 families in Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario, Pomona, Upland and throughout the Inland region.

Those numbers may increase. About 70,000 Afghans are expected to arrive in the U.S. under 

He packed his life into a backpack as he prepared to say goodbye to the only place he’d ever called home.

Two pairs of clothes, a few photos and a bag full of gemstones — that’s all that fit in the pack. Everything else he’d worked years for — his home, the car, jewelry — he left behind.

Joined by his wife and two boys, Shabbir Waziri fled Afghanistan along with nearly 130,000 others airlifted out of Kabul as the Taliban took control of the city in August. Three months later, the 28-year-old and his family landed in the small college town of Claremont, where, he says, life is much quieter.

“No planes or loud explosions,” Waziri said on a recent sunny day a few weeks before Thanksgiving, standing alongside his sons, 5-year-old Abubakar and 8-year-old Danish. “We can get used to this.”

Thanks to the Newcomers Access Center, Waziri and his family have a new temporary home in a dorm room on the empty Claremont School of Theology campus, where the nonprofit migrant aid group is located. The school is providing refugees with furnished dorms as families working with NAC make their way to Southern California.

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“There are 100 million people migrating around the world. And they’re displaced because of war, violence, and other natural disasters,” Anne Thorward, vice president of NAC’s board, said in an interview on the Claremont school campus. “If everything was peaceful and wonderful in Afghanistan, people wouldn’t leave.”

Waziri reluctantly nodded his head in agreement.

“For everyone, their countries are like a mother,” he said. “You don’t leave her behind. But this is our new home now and that means starting all over.”

Shabbir Waziri, who fled Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in August 2021, said he considers himself “lucky” for not being separated from his wife and two young sons at the Newcomers Access Center in Claremont on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

No going back

Staying in Kabul would have been a fatal choice, Waziri said.

The Taliban would have killed him and his loved ones, he said, because he worked alongside U.S. forces in the Afghanistan capital.

On Aug. 15, Taliban fighters took control of Kabul. The takeover sparked a mass exodus of people who believed they would be in danger if they stayed, including people who worked closely with the U.S. and its allies, such as Waziri.

For the past 15 years, Waziri said, he and his father worked as shopkeeper jewelers at the International Security Assistance Force Headquarters, which serves as the operational command center for a NATO-led mission. That made them targets as the government began collapsing this past summer, Waziri said.

When he told his family about leaving Afghanistan, he and his mom cried for more than two hours. There was no going back, Waziri said.

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“I didn’t want to leave but (the Afghan government) simply handed the Taliban the country,” he said, his voice trembling. “I can’t tell you how much stuff I lost but it was losing Afghanistan that hurt the most.”

Escaping Kabul …read more

Source:: Los Angeles Daily News


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