Fort Bliss’ Doña Ana Complex in New Mexico has many things to offer Afghan evacuees, including recreational activities and volunteering.
Language and education classes are now available due to the amount of downtime while waiting to outprocess.
The original initiative was launched when Nabila (last name withheld), an Afghan evacuee, started a school for children to learn and to help them focus on their future. She said she felt a need to teach the children how to integrate into American society.
When the idea of education came up, it was run by Afghan volunteers who translated and taught English classes for kids. Now there are opportunities for men, women, and the elderly. Each class is unique to the group and is staffed with Soldiers who have volunteered to be translators. The translators tasked from Fort Hood, Texas speak a multitude of languages and are available upon request to the teachers.
“We’ve been here since the inception of the school,” said Spc. Fahad Kazi, an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter repairer with 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas. “I think it’s a great initiative brought up by the people in the complex. They brought up the idea and we’re here to try to facilitate and help them so they are able to learn.”
Each translator speaks multiple languages, but due to the dialects being so similar, they can communicate with evacuees from across the different regions of Afghanistan. While the Afghan evacuees teach most of the classes, Soldiers help translate and assist with pronunciations.
“We try to get them to understand how important the school system is in America,” said Kazi. “The culture differences are a shock, but we’re trying our best to prepare them for school.”
Some of the translators, like Kazi, teach small five-minute classes on social etiquette and how to better integrate into American society.
“Sometimes, we do classes on what America is like as far as societal norms and standards for how we have to act,” said Kazi. “I like teaching small classes about human rights and how everyone in America is equal. I believe this is the first step to start learning about what it’s like being here and they’re learning so much very quickly.”
The children’s classes are focused on the alphabet, numbers, and basic manners. Many of the children have not been to school so they do not understand standing in line and sharing.
“We’ve seen so many changes in the kids especially since we’ve been doing these classes,” said Spc. Jahadul Alam, a volunteer translator and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter repairer with 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Armored Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.
“When we first started doing these classes, the kids would sprint to the front door of the classroom, waiting to be let in and push each other to sit in the front,” said Alam. “Now, everyone waits patiently and they’re so excited to show us that they’re being good and standing in line. They even try to teach their parents what they learn in school. They all love coming to class and learning now.”
English can be hard to learn, especially when it is a second language. The Afghan evacuees start by learning small words , then work up to common phrases.
“I know that people can get discouraged learning new languages, but we’re here to encourage them and help in whatever way they need,” said Sgt. Brandon Harris, a volunteer translator and human intelligence collector with 163rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Military Intelligence Expeditionary Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas.
The translators work with the evacuees daily to help with pronunciation and track progress. Each class, they do a review of what was taught the day prior so that they remember and have a baseline knowledge to continue building on.
“A lot of times, we all need encouragement and to be told we’re doing well,” said Harris. “Being able to be here and help is a blessing. I feel very grateful that I am able to come do humanitarian work and help them find a new way of life here in America.”
For our complete coverage of the Afghan refugees, click here. Afghan