Afghan refugees celebrate a new beginning at a ceremony in Modesto

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Thirteen refugee women from Afghanistan gathered in a park in Modesto on Friday to celebrate the completion of a program that is expected to improve the economic well-being of their families and enable the women to provide a much-needed service.

The women are the first to graduate from a childcare microenterprise development program offered by the International Rescue Committee Turlock and Modesto Junior College.

Turlock resident Enjila Farokh Ahmadi told fellow Davis Community Park graduates that she wonders what the future holds for her and her family when they leave Afghanistan for the United States. She dreamed of having her own business but did not know how to get there.

She then met Halima Mohammadi, the micro-enterprise advisor at CRI Turlock.

“I was so lucky to be part of this program,” according to Mohammadi’s translation of Farokh Ahmadi’s remarks into Dari, one of Afghanistan’s two main languages. Pashto is the other.

Farokh Ahmadi also speaks Pashto and English, as well as Urdu and Hindi. She said in an interview that she started learning English in third grade by watching movies on TV.

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Estori Afzali, greets IRC Business Advisor Halima Mohammadi, left, and IRC Senior Education and Health Promoter Katharina Beeler, right, during a graduation ceremony at Davis Park in Modesto, Calif. on Friday, July 1, 2022. Seventeen refugee women from Afghanistan are the first graduates of the International Rescue Committee and Modesto Junior College’s Child Care Microenterprise Development Program for the licensing of home child care. Andy Alfaro [email protected]

She said she and her husband and their three sons left Afghanistan in September 2020 because it was no longer safe due to her husband’s work with US officials and the rise of the Taliban.

Katharina Beeler, IRC’s senior education and health promoter, said IRC Turlock learned about the need to teach women how to run home-based childcare businesses after interviewing women and the men it serves in 2018.

Beeler told the graduates on Friday that surveys showed women and men want to work, want to start their own home-based businesses and need child care to do so.

IRC Turlock worked with the MJC to apply for a grant from the Federal Office for the Resettlement of Refugees to train 40 women.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement says these grants “provide business opportunities for refugee women in a market where there is a shortage of childcare providers.” Beeler said this is especially true in the Modesto area.

The first group of 20 women started about six months ago. Seventeen have completed the program. Four were unable to attend Friday’s graduation ceremony.

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Enjila Farokh Ahmadi, right, talks about her experience in the IRC Childcare Microenterprise Development Program as IRC Business Advisor Halima Mohammadi, during a graduation ceremony at Davis Park in Modesto Calif. on Friday, July 1, 2022. Seventeen refugee women from Afghanistan are the first graduates of the International Rescue Committee and Modesto Junior College’s Child Care Microenterprise Development Program for licensing of home child care. Andy Alfaro [email protected]

The women have been in the United States for about one to two years.

IRC Turlock provided all the training for the program in areas such as women’s empowerment and financial and digital literacy. He brought in experts to instruct the women in childcare. Mohammadi, IRC’s micro-enterprise advisor, translated for the women.

The graduates on Friday thanked Mohammadi and Jesus Salas, the IRC’s senior financial coach, for their support. Women were also able to take advantage of MJC courses for English language learners during the program.

“You are always welcome at the MJC,” told graduates Ruth Luman, a professor in the English department who helped IRC Turlock apply for the grant. “You are all perfectly capable of learning English and succeeding in business. … You are the best. You are the best in our community.

The 17 women who completed the program applied to the state for their childcare licenses in June and are expected to have them within 90 days.

About three dozen people, including IRC staff and friends and family of the graduates, gathered in Davis Park for the ceremony. It ended with a potluck of Afghan food. The meal included qabali, rice with carrots, raisins and spices, chapli kabab, minced meat with spices and chicken karahi.

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Shekiba Hakibi, left, talks about her experience with the IRC Childcare Microenterprise Development Program as IRC Business Advisor Halima Mohammadi, middle, and Katharina Beeler, right , IRC Senior Education and Health Promoter, listen during a graduation ceremony at Davis Park in Modesto Calif., Friday, July 1, 2022. Seventeen refugee women from Afghanistan are the first graduates of the International Rescue Committee Child Care Microenterprise Development Program and Modesto Junior College for home child care licensing. Andy Alfaro [email protected]

Mohammadi said IRC Turlock is on track to resettle around 950 people when its financial year ends in September. She said this is a significant increase from a typical year and is due to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan with the Taliban taking over the country.

The Bee reported in early June that IRC Turlock had struggled with the influx of refugees and the office was understaffed when evacuees began arriving in late 2021.

The International Rescue Committee operates worldwide and has offices in Sacramento, San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland.

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Estori Afzali serves traditional Afghan food during a potluck after a graduation ceremony at Davis Park in Modesto, Calif., Friday, July 1, 2022. Seventeen refugee women from Afghanistan are the Committee’s first graduates International Relief and Modesto Junior College. child care microenterprise development program for home child care licensing. Andy Alfaro [email protected]

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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general missions for The Modesto Bee. He graduated from San José State University.

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