Constructing a New Future: Ahmad from Afghanistan*
“I will never forget someone who helped me. They become like my family.” These are words Ahmad lives by. He is so thankful for the people who have carried him and his family through difficult and dangerous times. He also knows it’s a two-way street: sometimes you help others, and sometimes you need help from them.
Rebuilding his country
Ahmad’s home country of Afghanistan had been in turmoil through continuous war for decades. Poverty, violence, and decimated infrastructure paralyzed the country. So when the chance came in 2006 for him to help the US military rebuild his homeland, he jumped right in with both feet.
“I had taken some courses in civil engineering and completed some OSHA safety courses after high school. I also studied English very hard and became an English teacher,” Ahmad explains.
This background gave him the technical, language, and people skills to work with the US Army Corps of Engineers as a safety specialist.
“I was responsible for the safety of all the laborers on the construction sites. The standards were much higher than what they were used to. Some workers didn’t want to use safety equipment like harnesses when they worked at heights. I explained that if they fell, they would get badly injured or die. It was my job, yes, but I also didn’t want them to get hurt.”
Ahmad was always busy. “I monitored twenty projects at once: roads that connected provinces, schools, clinics, and government buildings.”
He is very proud of the role he played in advancing his country. “Even if there was no pay, I would do it. What a difference from what Afghanistan was before. It is completely changed.”
His intent was to continue doing the work he loved- helping his country and helping the workers. But one incident in 2011 changed the course of his life forever.
It was the Muslim holiday of Eid and all of the laborers were going home to celebrate with their families.
“There were three big trucks taking them back home,” remembers Ahmad. “The Taliban stopped them and took them all for two months. They told them to stop working on these projects and warned, ‘Next time we catch you, you will disappear.’”
A brave laborer found Ahmad after the ordeal. “He told me the Taliban showed my picture and made accusations about me. They were going to come after me.”
There was an added danger. “The photo was taken at a safety meeting. That means one of those laborers was working for the Taliban.”
Anyone could be someone who followed, abducted, or shot him. He started sleeping in a different location each week and stopped travelling regularly to visit his family.
His supervisors knew it was because of his work with the US Army Corps of Engineers that his life was on the line. They knew how competent he was, how hard he worked, and how passionate he was about helping his country. Now he was the one who needed help.
The US government was aware of thousands of Afghan people in similar situations. To address this, they created a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) granting relocation to the United States to a portion of those in need. The application process was thorough and wait times long.
By 2012, Ahmad’s visa application was in process, complete with a critical letter of recommendation from his supervisor, Ken, who he keeps in touch with to this day.
That was also the year Ahmad got married. His wife moved around with him as he kept working with the same passion he always had. Not long after, their first child was born.
Life was a mix of joy, anxiety, and waiting to feel safe.
Finally, in October 2014, Ahmad’s visa was approved.
A new life
“When we arrived in the US, we could finally relax. At last my family was safe. But everything was the opposite here. We needed someone to help us, to show us where to buy food, how to find a job, everything. We were really needy at the time. We had no car, no drivers’ license, nothing. The bus only came every 45 minutes to an hour. It was hard,” Ahmad comments of his family’s first months in the US.
“Then we met Barton and Lori and they helped us with whatever we needed. They are amazing people. They took us to appointments, explained life here to us, and showed us how we can live,” he adds.
Ahmad got a job as a housekeeper at a hotel. It was a survival job that allowed him to provide for his family.
“My wife got pregnant and Lori took her to her medical appointments while I was working. She didn’t speak English then, so she was so thankful to have Lori there.”
Barton and Lori walked alongside Ahmad and his family, helping them build their new life.
“Even now, they come over and ask how we are doing. We go to their house, too. They cook for us, and we cook for them. They are like our family. I will never forget someone who helped me.”
After a couple of years, Ahmad was promoted to a supervisory position, again proving his interpersonal skills and dependability. His dream is to once again work with the US Army Corps of Engineers, this time in his new country.
“They told me they only hire US citizens to work for them here. I agree with this.”
A few months ago, Ahmad and his wife were excited to pass the test and interview process to become US citizens. Barton and Lori were at their citizenship ceremony.
Ahmad knows that whatever happens next, his life will continue to be about helping others and valuing relationships with people like Ken and Barton and Lori who helped him when he needed it most.
*Some names have been changed