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Pakistani-led North Carolina Nonprofit Helping Newly Arriving Afghan Refugees

Triangle Association of Muslim American Mothers president Asma Khan is spearheading a clothing drive in Cary, NC, asking the local Muslim community for gently used or new long sleeve or loose clothes for the Afghan women.

By A Correspondent

Asma Khan, president of TAMAM, sorts through bags of donated clothing for Afghan women. (Photo courtesy Spectrum News/Noorulain Khawaja)

You don’t need to start an impactful work through a community organization only if you are in a big population center of one particular community. Because your work is determined by the quality, intent and impact and not how many people or which community you represent.

In many cities with large presence of Pakistani-Americans, community organizations largely spend their energies and resources to project a soft image of Pakistan by organizing events and parades that can reflect their culture, traditions and beliefs. But fewer are organizations that have adopted a different course – serving the humanity from cities with relatively less Pakistani American population. They work for all while projecting and preserving their Pakistani heritage pride.

Triangle Association of Muslim American Mothers (TAMAM), a Cary, NC-based Muslim organization headed and staffed mostly by Pakistani immigrants is one good example. It is generating goodwill and positive vibes across community lines and in the mainstream. The organization made it to the headlines when the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants reached out to it for help. It needed help in collecting appropriate clothing for Afghan refugee women arriving in the area.

USCRI is among scores of American nonprofits that are working to help more than 84,000 Afghans refugees arriving at American shores on Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), following tha fall of Kabul to Taliban in August last year.

There are about 7,000 Afghans on the U.S. bases across thee country awaiting resettlement, US officials say. The Department of Defense has already closed a number of these intermediate “safe havens” and plans to shut down the rest by spring.

“Asma Khan, the president of TAMAM, is spearheading a clothing drive, asking the local Muslim community for gently used or new long sleeve or loose clothes for the Afghan women. Khan wants to help them feel more comfortable in clothes that are culturally appropriate,” says NC’s Spectrum News.

“Their needs aren’t really being met,” Khan said. “Maybe they’re not really understood very well. And this is our community, so these are the types of clothes we wear. A lot of us come from those types of communities, so we can understand what exactly they’re looking for and provide it for them.”

Khan, a Pakistani-American, understands how this group of Afghan women wants to be modest, given the cultural similarities between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“They’re leaving behind everything they know,” Khan said. “Maybe clothing is something that they can take it slow, and at least start with clothing they’re familiar with and in their comfort zone to a certain degree, so they can slowly make the transition. The transition is so abrupt, so different than what they’re used to.”

Shalwar Qameez is the most widely-used dress in Afghanistan. Most women wear a hijab or chador as a covering. Some wear burqa as well. Asma is very familiar with  the Afghan dresses because these are very widely used in her own country of origin Pakistan.

Khan’s organization has helped to resettle refugees from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bangladesh. She’s on a mission to help the newest members of the Muslim community, no matter where they arrive from.

“I think as Muslims we’re always called to do community service and help those who need help,” she was quoted by Spectrum News as saying. “And anyone who comes to a foreign country, especially in the circumstances that they came in, could use a lift, you know, could use a leg up.”

She has received huge support from the local Muslim and Pakistani community. “Are you still collecting clothes for the refugees?,” wrote Syed Shabana on TAMAM’s Facebook page on February 8. Khan says the outpouring of support for this cause means a lot to her. A significant number of Pakistani Americans call Cary and adjoining Releigh as their home. Overall, the local Muslim community population has witnessed rapid growth over the past few years.

“Everyone feels a sense of sisterhood, brotherhood, feeling neighborly and that we’re one community and that we should help each other out.”

Khan is inviting Afghan women to come, try on and pick from the donated modest clothing that her organization has collected. The event is taking place at the Islamic Association of Raleigh on Saturday, February 12.

Asma Khan says she plans to help Afghan refugees with job placement and English classes. More than 1200 Afghan SIV holders have moved to cities across North Carolina.

Fox News quoted a DHS spokesperson as saying that, “as of January 18th, USCIS has adjudicated employment authorization applications for more than 70,000 Afghan evacuees who went to safe havens for processing after arriving in the United States. USCIS has produced and mailed nearly 69,000 employment authorization documents.”

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