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Afghan Refugee Forms Group To Unite, Welcome Other Refugees To Michigan

Afghan Association of Michigan
courtesy
/
Yusuf Sultani
Yusuf Sultani (center, red shirt) joins others on the Michigan State Capitol steps during a prayer vigil for Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021.

21 year-old Yusuf Sultani is an Afghan refugee who cofounded the Afghan Association of Michigan with the goal of bringing other refugees together to feel more at home.

The City of Lansing is getting ready to resettle about 100 Afghan refugees.

That’s following the Taliban takeover in the capital city of Kabul last month.

One Afghan refugee has formed a group to make the transition to life in the states easier.

WKAR's Megan Schellong spoke with Yusuf Sultani, the president of the Afghan Association of Michigan and a student at Western Michigan University about how his experience inspired him to form the group.

Interview Highlights

On Cultural Shocks Coming To The U.S. From Afghanistan

When I went to school, in the class environment, it was totally different. And you have to go from this class to a different class. And back in my country, we would stay in the same class until the end of the day, and the teacher would come to your class, but in here it’s totally different.

On Getting Out Of His Comfort Zone

I was a part of an [English as a Second Language] class and the ESL class was a lot of students from different countries. And we would communicate based on the common thing that we would go through, let's say, we didn't know enough English, but we would come together at a time and talk and that talking would help us out to get those feelings out and, and also learn a lot of English.

On His Inspiration To Form The Afghan Association Of Michigan

That depression, that anxiety, plus loneliness. It's actually helped me out to form this organization and I suffered from stress or loneliness, and I don't want other people who come here, [to] suffer from that. There should be resources available for them, there should be people from their own country to help them out and get started.

On The Association’s Plans To Help Resettle Incoming Refugees

The main focus right now is to help new arrivals. To help these new arrivals, we are laying out a sort of a sponsorship through different organizations in Lansing, which is we partner up with St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Refugee Development Center to help these refugees who are coming here. And we will sponsor new arrivals, and then we'll provide them like a care package, welcome package.

Interview Transcript

Megan Schellong: This is Morning Edition on WKAR.

The City of Lansing is getting ready to resettle about 100 Afghan refugees. That’s after the Taliban takeover in the capital city of Kabul last month.

One Afghan refugee has formed a group to make the transition to life in the states easier.

Joining me now is Yusuf Sultani. He’s the president of the Afghan Association of Michigan and a student at Western Michigan University.

Yusuf, thanks for joining me.

Yusuf Sultani: Thanks for having me today.

Schellong: Yusuf, if you feel comfortable can you talk about what your experience was like first moving to Lansing in 2016 from Kabul?

Sultani: Yes, So I didn't come directly from Kabul to United States, Lansing.

But I came from Indonesia, I lived a little while in Indonesia, to get resettled, and to be here in the United States.

When I came to the United States, it was very cold. And that environment and culture was totally new to me, and the people.

And with my little broken English, I couldn't communicate with people. I was so depressed, and I couldn't connect with anyone at the time. I felt really lonely.

Schellong: Were there any cultural shocks that surprised you when you moved to the states?

Sultani: Yes, so, I was in high school at the time. When I went to school, in the class environment, it was totally different. And you have to go from this class to a different class.

And back in my country, we would stay in the same class until the end of the day, and the teacher would come to your class, but in here it’s totally different.

And if you want to ask somebody something, you have to be like, appropriate, polite. Or, it's a totally different approach to someone. And at the time I was like I wasn’t good enough to talk with someone, those are like the things that I had felt.

But the good culture part about America is everybody's accepted in here, no matter what background you are. You just need to get out of your comfort zone and talk to them. But over time, once I got connected, I got out of the comfort zone, and I got connected with so many people.

Schellong: What do you think finally pushed you out of your comfort zone?

Sultani: I was a part of an [English as a Second Language] class and the ESL class was a lot of students from different countries. And we would communicate based on the common thing that we would go through, let's say, we didn't know enough English, but we would come together at a time and talk and that talking would help us out to get those feelings out and, and also learn a lot of English. And we could use that outside of that class and make the circle a little bit bigger every time. And that circle eventually got bigger and bigger, and it's still growing.

Schellong: How did your experience resettling in the states influence your decision to cofound the Afghan Association of Michigan?

Sultani: As I mentioned, in the past that depression, that anxiety, plus loneliness. It's actually helped me out to form this organization and I suffered from stress or loneliness, and I don't want other people who come here, [to] suffer from that.

There should be resources available for them, there should be people from their own country to help them out and get started.

And to be there for them to [mentor] them, or to help them out, how to go about their life. Let's say that when they arrive here, they don't know about the culture, about the community, how to interact, or what are the things that American people value.

So those are the things that inspired me to start this organization.

Schellong: Can you tell us a little bit about the goal in the outlook for the Afghan Association of Michigan this year? Your primary focus.

Sultani: So the Afghan association has three missions and one of them is helping new arrivals, to strengthen our community, and preserve and celebrate Afghan culture.

So the main focus right now is to help new arrivals.

To help these new arrivals, we are laying out a sort of a sponsorship through different organizations in Lansing, which is we partner up with St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Refugee Development Center to help these refugees who are coming here.

And we will sponsor new arrivals, and then we'll provide them like a care package, welcome package.

And it will include gift cards, bus passes, home goods, groceries for up to five days, as well as other mentorship. There will be a lot of Afghans as well to welcome them, and make them feel at home.

Schellong: Yusuf, thanks so much for your time today, I appreciate it.

Sultani: Yeah, no problem.

Schellong: Yusuf Sultani is the president of the Afghan Association of Michigan.

For information on helping out incoming Afghan refugees in the state visit afghanassociationmi.org.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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