Thanksgiving for Ukrainian, Afghan refugees: No politics, simply dinner
A whole lot of refugees celebrated Thanksgiving final weekend outdoors Washington, D.C., on the Ethiopian Group Improvement Council, a refugee resettlement company.
How did an Ethiopian group nonprofit come to assist refugees from Afghanistan, Congo, Eritrea, El Salvador and Ukraine?
ECDC began in 1983 to assist Ethiopians displaced due to battle and famine, however it’s now one among 9 U.S. resettlement companies that accomplice with the United Nations. Since final yr, the nonprofit has helped almost 1,600 refugees start new lives in Northern Virginia, 95% of them Afghans.
That is how my household heard of the company.
After Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021 when america withdrew our army from Afghanistan, my husband wished to assist with the humanitarian disaster. As an editor with a protection contractor, Bob is shut along with his Afghan American colleagues and pals. Together with them in our lives has solely enriched our household.
Fall of Afghanistan, fall of Vietnam
In 2014, after working in Kabul for six months at a U.S. army base, Bob had helped Afghan interpreters get visas to immigrate to America. When Afghanistan’s capital metropolis fell seven years later, these new Individuals agonized over their helplessness making an attempt to get their very own households out, and we agonized with them.
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Bob discovered the Ethiopian company close to our dwelling in Northern Virginia and began volunteering to assist decide up refugee households from the airport. As he got here dwelling with tales, I knew he was on a mission and would not keep a volunteer lengthy. By this time final yr, ECDC was including employees to take care of the overwhelming variety of arriving Afghan households. And Bob give up his full-time enhancing job to work for the Ethiopian heart as a housing coordinator for these new exiles.
That is who Bob Elston is. He would have carried out it even when he weren’t married to me, a refugee-turned-American whose household fled Vietnam on the fall of Saigon almost 5 many years in the past after I was 8. However I do consider my dad, whose final job earlier than he handed away in 1991 was director of a refugee company for the Vietnamese American group in Phoenix.
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Sunday, Bob helped with the Thanksgiving celebration and got here dwelling with extra tales about his colleagues on the Ethiopian Group Improvement Council and the refugees they’re serving to. I used to be sorry I could not make it and wished to speak along with his boss. I wished to know: Why did a whole lot of individuals present up for an American Thanksgiving that the majority of them did not know something about?
Sarah Zullo, head of ECDC’s native department, informed me that is the tenth yr of the company’s Thanksgiving fest however that it had been on-line for 2 years due to COVID-19.
“After two years of hibernation, all of a sudden we were back,” she stated. “The desire for the people to come out, to see people, to be around people” was a giant draw.
The variety of folks in attendance was so overwhelming that Sunday’s Thanksgiving broke into two back-to-back celebrations for greater than 500 refugees. About 150 volunteers helped serve not solely the normal American Thanksgiving meal but in addition Central American yucca fries subsequent to mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey amid lentils and conventional dishes from Afghanistan, Africa and Ukraine.
“It’s our own Thanksgiving,” stated Alexandra Hernandez-Pardo, the company’s useful resource growth supervisor. “It’s what an international community Thanksgiving looks like.”
What sticks with Zullo after a decade of Thanksgiving celebrations on the refugee company?
“It’s the one place where we’re not going to talk about religion, we’re not going to talk about politics, we’re not going to talk about ethnicity. It’s just we bring people all together, and this magic happens when people are around food that all of a sudden they sort of discover that they have so much more in common with each other,” she stated. “To me, that’s what Thanksgiving is all about.”
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What about Ethiopian refugees?
Like my husband, Zullo began at ECDC as a volunteer in 2010, when she was on a scholar visa from Ethiopia. Finding out criminology to be a lawyer, as a substitute she stayed with the refugee company and acquired a grasp’s diploma in public administration.
It is ironic for each Zullo and the Ethiopian Group Improvement Council that a lot of Washington’s consideration has centered on refugees from Afghanistan and now Ukraine. In Ethiopia, a civil warfare within the north over the previous two years is a good greater and deadlier battle than the Ukraine warfare.
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As USA TODAY experiences on the Tigray battle: “No working ambulances for a population of more than 5.5 million. No banking services. Hundreds of thousands killed by fighting and famine. A near-total military siege that has all but cut off essential supplies and forced families to stay in touch by word of mouth or through handwritten letters.”
Only in the near past, ECDC applauded the Biden administration’s designation of Momentary Protected Standing for Ethiopian immigrants for 18 months.
“The United States recognizes the ongoing armed conflict and the extraordinary and temporary conditions engulfing Ethiopia,” Secretary of Homeland Safety Alejandro Mayorkas stated. “Ethiopian nationals currently residing in the U.S. who cannot safely return due to conflict-related violence and a humanitarian crisis involving severe food shortages, flooding, drought, and displacement, will be able to remain and work in the United States until conditions in their home country improve.”
When I asked Zullo about the U.S. caps on where refugees could come from, she said the quotas have “always been the problem. … It’s a hard line to walk.”
Thuan Le Elston, a member of USA TODAY’s Editorial Board, is the author of “Rendezvous at the Altar: From Vietnam to Virginia.” Follow her on Twitter: @thuanelston
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