Over the years, Sacramento has become one of the largest resettlement areas for families who’ve fled Afghanistan.

Local organizations such as the Muslim American Society Social Services Foundation, or MAS-SSF, have been busy preparing for the arrival of more refugees who will soon call the Golden State home.

What You Need To Know

  • Sacramento is one of the largest resettlement areas for Afghan families

  • One out of every nine Afghans living in the U.S. calls Sacramento home

  • The San Juan Unified School District has 1,400 students from Afghanistan, compared to 200 in 2007

  • Local organizations are partnering to welcome a new wave of refugees

“What makes us unique and one of a kind is that we have a team of experts — whether it’s staff, our counselors, or our board members — who have gone through the refugee or immigrant process,” said Gulshan Yusufzai, executive director for MAS-SSF.

Yusufzai moved to Sacramento with her family when she was 9 years old during the Soviet War in Afghanistan. While more than 30 years have passed since her life was uprooted, the Afghan native still remembers the challenges of resettling like it was yesterday.

“As we integrated into the system and as we grew older, there were clashes in terms of culture, language, religion, and through that, lots of mental health challenges,” Yusufzai said.

Yusufzai and her team at MAS-SSF have made it their goal to help the Muslim community prioritize their mental well-being.

“We are a nonprofit that focuses on social services but overall, a specific focus on mental health for the Middle Eastern, South Asian and North African community,” Yusufzai said.

It’s through her own lived experience that she’s able to relate to those who’ve had to endure decades of war in the Middle East, Yusufzai said.

“You go through a level of trauma that is not very common here in the U.S., and you accept it, but how it affects you is huge, and you don’t realize it until you come to the U.S.,” she said.

The foundation offers counseling, workshops and other mental health resources to families, including those coming from Afghanistan. 

“There’s lots of worries when you come here, so we want to make them feel welcomed and at home,” Yusufzai notes.

Also preparing to welcome refugees is Paula Villescaz, board president for the San Juan Unified School District in Sacramento County.

“I’m very grateful we get to be a part of the welcoming committee and some of the first faces that they see and the people that they interact with,” Villescaz said.

Villescaz adds the district currently has about 1,400 students from Afghanistan, compared to approximately 200 in 2007.

“We slowly started to hire more of what we call Special Immigrant Visa population to join the San Juan family to help translate for our family and for our students,” Villescaz said.

According to the Sacramento Bee, one out of every nine Afghan natives living in the U.S. have made the Sacramento region their home.

“We are offering increased mental health services to our school sites where we know we have a significant current population of our (Afghan) neighbors who may need a little bit of an extra hand,” Villescaz said.

She said that the district has also increased its partnership with local food banks and resettlement organizations during the last two weeks. Villescaz shares the district is prepared to do rapid enrollment for students arriving in the coming days and weeks.

“We’ve been on alert for a few weeks, if not a couple of months, and there were kind of some flags like ‘Hey, expect hundreds, expect thousands,’” Villescaz said.

While Yusufzai and Villescaz still don’t know the exact number of families who will be coming to Sacramento, they both said they’re ready to welcome their new neighbors with open arms.

“I think everything I’ve gone through has prepared me to be in this position now,” Yusufzai said.

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