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By Miriam Raftery

Photo: East County Magazine Radio Show host Miriam Raftery,  Dilkhwaz Ahmed, CEO of License to Freedom, and Bob Gan, Co-Chair of Welcome Home in San Diego

June 3, 2023 (San Diego) – San Diego is a national hub for refugees fleeing war and persecution from nations around the world. Welcome Home in San Diego and License to Freedom in El Cajon are two organizations helping people who have been legally designated as refugees. 

Recently, ECM Editor Miriam Raftery interviewed Bob Gan,Co-Chair of Welcome Home locally and Dilkhwaz Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer of License to Freedom. 

You can hear our full interview, originally aired on KNSJ 89.1 FM radio, by clicking the audio link, or scroll down for highlights to learn how you can help these nonprofit organzations welcoming new Americans.

Bob Gans, Welcome Home San Diego

“I am a living example that giving a little help to refugees who come to the United States with nothing can have generational impact, not only for their families, but for the community,” says Gan, whose parents were  Holocaust survivors. “Here I am today, having graduated UCLA,” says Gan.  After surviving the Dachau concentration camp, his father married and came to America, where thanks to help from strangers, he was able to get a factory job. “That was a start, and that’s what Welcome Home is all about,” he explains.

Welcome Home is part of the San Diego Jewish Federation, which has a diverse staff helping to resettle refugees of all faiths and many nationalities. The focus of  Welcome Home is to provide educational and vocational opportunities to new Americans-- refugees fleeing war, famine and persecution who now reside legally in San Diego County.

“Our goal is to help these new Americans overcome obstacles through education and employment,” says Gan. “We do so by making small, targeted grants through vetted nonprofit institutions in San Diego…These fund anything from tuition to books to tools, bus passes for refugees to get from their homes to school or a job.  There is so much need and so little out there.”  The organization raises resources and money “so that these people can get back on their feet; they’ve come to the U.S. with nothing.”

Recent waves of refugees have come from Afghanistan,  Ukraine, Africa and the Caribbean,  he says. “We have done supply drives. In 2022 alone, we supplied over $250,000 in emergency supplies.”

That’s included helping fill items on a refugee wish list provided by Ahmed’s License to Freedom organization, such as personal hygiene items such as hair and shaving supplies, clothes, diapers,kitchen items, utensils and laptop computers.

“Think about how you would negotiate today’s world without some kind of computer technology,” says Gan, whose organization recently donated 100 laptops to other local groups helping refugees.

The public can help by donating items such as warm clothing, blankets or other items, or even better, cash donations.

“Last summer I walked my neighborhood; probably gave out 150 flyers. I said, “Bring your stuff to my driveway and they did,”  says Gan, whose organization in turn donated much-needed items to refugees.

He spoke of an “emotional experience” recently visiting a Residence Inn near his home that was housing refugees, many with children. Organizations brought supplies to the parking lot for the refugees. “It was amazing to see the need, and how grateful they are,” he recalled.

But while temporary supplies are helpful, what’s most needed is long-term help, so that refugees don’t have to rely on public assistance or volunteer organizations, says Gan.

“In 2022, we provided grants for six people to attend certified medical assistant training,” Gan notes, adding that all have completed that training and now have internships. Welcome Home helped another refugee get a truck driver’s license, and now he works for a trucking company. Two others become security guards, with their microgrants.  The organization has also funded tuition, tools, training, work manuals and licensing certificates.

“These people want to work. They just need a little bit of help,” Gan says.  “Picture yourself getting uprooted from your home, going through the worst kind of persecution…then coming to a new country, where you don’t know lthe anguage and,don’t have anything…You just want to have the opportunity to work.”

Providing help for refugees to get an education and work impacts future generations, he says, adding, “If these folks are helped, it benefits the entire community.”  

You can learn more, volunteer or donate at https://WelcomeHomeNewAmericans.com .  

Dilkhwaz Ahmed, License to Freedom

Dilkhwaz Ahmed became a refugee 22 years ago, after coming to the U.S. for a conference as a speaker representing a nonprofit organization in Iraq. The Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and the Iraq War made it unsafe to return home.

She arrived as a refugee in San Diego, separated from her husband and children left behind. Despite an advanced degree, she had only limited knowledge of English and was unfamiliar with how the Justice Dept. worked, how to apply for a driver’s license or find a rental house.

License To Freedom has a new and expanded mission to “promote peaceful and safe relationships within the diverse refugee and immigrant communities of San Diego,” Ahmed says.  “This is accomplished through services and strategies that build resilience and self sufficiency, support healing from violence and trauma, and advocacy for equity and justice.”

License to Freedom has three offices in El Cajon—one providing crisis intervention, another for mental health needs, and a new House of Afghan for Afghan refugees with federal funds from the Biden administration..

She says Afghans want to be accepted here, without bullying. “They are so peaceful, and they are thankful for being here,” noting that Afghan women have many more choices here than in Afghanistan, and appreciate schooling for their children.

Recently, License to Freedom accepted 21 women into the nonprofit’s economic development program.  With grant funding, Ahmed says, “We are in the process of helping them start small businesses.”

Mental health counseling is also critical for Afghan refugees.  “The entire world saw what happened at the airport in Kabul,” Ahmed recalls. “They have nightmares. Some left family members behind…They are desperate. They want to help their family members there.” But first, they must overcome struggles here, such as paying rent in a high-priced housing market here.  “We offer education and support, and refer them to services,” she says.

She thanked Welcome Home San Diego for provided items needed by License to Freedom’s clients, such as diapers, gift cards, clothing, bikes and furniture. “I call Welcome Home and they provide it within two days,” she said.

License to Freedom, in addition to filling short-term needs, also helps new refugees develop a sense of community belonging and teaches them how to navigate the system. “Where they come from, everything is different – how to walk your kids to school, how to open a bank account, how to get a driver’s license or find a doctor.”

Current needs include English as a second language (ESL) volunteer teachers to work with youths.

Urgently needed is medical care for a woman whose face was left half paralyzed by surgery after escaping war and suffering a heart attack overseas. “She begs me every day,” says Ahmed, who hopes to find a surgeon to treat the woman.

She asks this of the public. “We need your support. We cannot do this by ourselves.”

You can learn more at https://LicenseToFreedom.org.  



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