Caring for Others Amidst Upheaval and New Foundations
December 13, 2022
For Ajmal Rezai, life in Afghanistan had been rich and meaningful. He had graduated from Kardan University’s MBA program as a model student and became an inspiring pillar of his community. Working as a Human Resources Manager for a major contractor of the U.S. government, he was responsible for hiring translators and project managers for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior Affairs and Ministry of Defense. His job put him in the privileged position of being able to support his family, as well as neighbors in need. He recalls how, every Friday night after work, he and his brother would go to the market to buy clothing, food, and other goods to distribute to people. He even helped publish informational videos for the community with Musbat (“Positive”) Media about respect for women and other important messages (see him in action here).
Like so many Afghans who arrived in Los Angeles over the past year, however, Ajmal had to abandon all he had known and worked for when Kabul fell to the Taliban in August of 2021. “After leaving my country Afghanistan,” he says, “my heart broke into pieces because I struggled a lot to build my career and complete my education…I left behind the hope that I had for my future. It was all gone.” Even as he processed his own losses, though, Ajmal continued to look out for others. During his temporary stay at a U.S. military base in Wisconsin, he volunteered with the International Rescue Committee’s Supply Department from September 2021 until he arrived in Los Angeles last February.
“I left behind the hope that I had for my future. It was all gone.”
When he landed in LA, Ajmal was greeted by IILA staff at the airport and felt reassured that someone was caring for him too. He was able to rest in his hotel room that night but also did not lose any time in doing all he could to support himself. He remembers his first steps: “I slept for the night. Early in the morning, I woke up and asked the lobby for a piece of paper to start writing my to-do list: 1) how to get my SSN number, 2) how to apply for a CA driving license.” Soon after, IILA arrived as planned with Ajmal’s resettlement funds and SSN card, so Ajmal turned his focus to finding work. Between not yet having a driver’s license and the lack of available positions related to his experience, he initially struggled in his search. In time, he secured a part-time job working remotely as a translator for a law firm he knew through the base in Wisconsin. In his spare time, though, Ajmal continued to care for others by helping Afghans at his hotel with public benefits questions, navigating public transportation, accompanying them to the hospital when needed, and more.
In May, he and his family were able to move into their own apartment—a big step that IILA’s case management team helped make possible, he says. By participating in IILA’s Matching Grant program for accelerated employment, Ajmal was also able to start a full-time position in May with IILA’s newly launched Afghan Legal Representation Project (ALRP). “I feel proud that IILA valued my education and considered my talents, language skills, and computer skills,” he reports. As an Immigration Caseworker, Ajmal has been an indispensable team member in assisting fellow countrymen with their asylum application process. “I am helping them to fill out their applications, and I am preparing their documents and statements,” he explains. “After that, I send the paperwork to the attorney for review and am a point of contact between the attorney and the client.”
“I feel proud that IILA valued my education and considered my talents, language skills, and computer skills.”
Ajmal is grateful for the ways that IILA has assisted him and his family in their journey. “IILA is not just an organization,” he says. “It’s the gateway of my life in the U.S to start my career as an Immigration Caseworker.” Now that Ajmal is setting down roots in Southern California, he can look towards his future goals. In time, he hopes to complete a software engineering program, own his own company, and help educate fellow Afghans for free. He wants to continue to be a positive force in his local community, easing suffering where he can and helping give others access to opportunities for advancement.