Noor Women's Association


Retired Teacher Helps Refugees    By Patty Machelor 

Arizona Daily Star

    Shama Qureshi finds helping others to be her solace. Public service has almost always been part of her life, first as a teacher and then – after she retired in 1996 – as an advocate and tutor to children and refugees. Her volunteer work became more significant after her husband died in October, she said.

            “Because I was a teacher, it’s something that I love to do, I’m not doing volunteer work because I feel obligated to do it,” said Qureshi, 73, “Since I’ve become a widow, it’s what keeps me going.”

            Mohsin  Qureshi, 79, and Shama were married for 50 years Shama Qureshi, who is known by some as Sandy, converted to Islam after meeting her husband at the University of Michigan.

            Zakat is one of the Five Pillars of Islam; this requires the faithful to give 2 ½ % of their financial resources to charity each year. Qureshi said that there is also an obligation to give of one’s time and talent to those in need.

            “When I was teaching full time, I did not  have time to do very much, but I knew that when I retired, I would do a lot of volunteering.”

            A month after she had retired in June 2006, Qureshi and her husband moved from Chicago to Saddlebrooke. Qureshi said that some Arizona mines were closing, and people were struggling. To help, she worked with others to start Saddlebrooke Community Outreach, which included a children’s clothing bank. The Kids’ Closet is now in San Manuel, Qureshi said, and more than 3,000 children benefit each year.

            Qureshi also helped to start Tucson’s Noor  Women’s Association more than 10 years ago. This interfaith organization helps refugees.

            As part of her work with Noor, Qureshi visits several refugee families each week to provide tutoring and support.

            Right now, Iraqi and Bhutanese represent the largest groups of refugees coming into Tucson.. During the last year, Qureshi said, Noor has helped more than 250 people with rent, food, clothing, learning English and medical expenses.

            “There is something really satisfying and wonderful about helping someone else to be happy,” she said.” It changes your energy level. It’s a breath of fresh air to get away from yourself and do something for someone else.”

Opinion by Bonnie Henry: Becoming Americans   Afghan family embraces U.S. opportunity     June, 8 2008

    When the Nabi family arrived in Tucson a little more than five years ago, they knew almost nothing about America.
Today, Nargis Nabi and her eight children easily shift between two cultures — that of America and that of Afghanistan, their native land.
They speak English and Pashtu. They watch American soap operas on television — and soccer games broadcast from Kabul.
They wear their native dress — and blue jeans and flip-flops.
But all have one goal: to become Americans. Read how far they've come inside in today's cover story. — Bonnie Henry
    So much has changed. • Five years ago, an Afghan widow, Nargis Nabi, and her eight children arrived in Tucson after being granted asylum in America. • Our language, our music, our stores, our culture — all were incomprehensible to them. • No more.
Everyone speaks English. Three of them have jobs — one at the mall. Four of them drive. Three have applied for U.S. citizenship.
A couple of them yak on their cell phones. Oldest daughter Sara Nabi, 16, also has a laptop and an iPod that she bought with her own money, doing chores around the house.
"My favorite singer is Shakira," says Sara as her mother sitting next to her rolls her eyes.  
It's a gesture a million American moms can identify with.
But there's more than a generational chasm here. Mom Nargis wears the traditional flowing clothing of her native country, including the scarf.
Daughter Sara does not, her long, black hair falling below her shoulders. She wears the typical teen uniform: jeans, long-sleeved tee, flip-flops.
Next week, she, along with students from all over the country, will fly to Washington, D.C., to take part in a week's worth of programs sponsored by the Close Up Foundation, which exposes youth to American government.
"We had five students go last year from Catalina. This year it's two," says Julie Kasper, who teaches Sara's advanced English as a Second Language class and helped her fill out the forms.
Sara has never wavered from her stated goal, first voiced here when she was 11. "I want to be a pediatrician," she says.
At Catalina Magnet High School, where she has just finished up her junior year, she flits easily from class to class, greeting friends and classmates.
In a school where some 45 dialects are spoken, many of Sara's friends are from foreign lands. Some wear the traditional head scarf.
"I'm a mentor to the new refugees coming into school," she says. "We help them, take them to stores."
Sara also enjoys cruising the malls, particularly with Allison Bradford, who's been her Big Sister for the last 18 months or so.
"Sara is the typical American teenager. She loves to go to the mall," says Bradford, 48.
It's a welcome respite for Sara, who helps out at home a great deal, baby-sitting her younger siblings and doing chores around the house.
"She's very responsible — her mom relies on her," says Bradford. "She's very Americanized in one way, but she's still got one foot planted in each culture."
In her advanced ESL class at Catalina, Sara worked all semester on a video project titled "Two Cultures."
"I have my Afghan culture and my American culture," says Sara, whose video juxtaposes what she calls "my American side" against her mother's culture.
Now 43, Nargis and her children fled from Afghanistan to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, after her husband was killed by the Taliban in 2000.
A year after the forms were filed, the family was granted asylum in America, arriving in Tucson on Feb. 11, 2003.
Several relief agencies pitched in to help with everything from food to furniture and a place to live. Food stamps and cash assistance from the state also helped.
Today, the family lives in a pink-painted, five-bedroom home in central Tucson — a low-income rental made available through Section 8 housing.
The family also qualifies for $200 a month in food stamps, and health care through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
Other than that, the Nabis are entirely self-supporting.
Nargis works the graveyard shift as an aide at a care home for the elderly.
She also drives herself to free citizenship classes several nights a week. "The reading and writing is the hardest part," says Nargis during a recent lesson in Nora Gleason's class.
Formerly of Guadalajara, Mexico, Gleason herself became a U.S. citizen two years ago.
"I have empathy. I know how they feel," says Gleason, whose class normally numbers between 17 and 24 students. While the majority are from Mexico, others hail from Peru, Iran and Sudan.
Tonight's lesson includes a reading on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
Nargis, who never learned to read or write in her native language, struggles through the reading, all in English, aided by Ali T. Khoub, a student counselor from Iran.
"She's learning very fast," says Gleason. "I see her giving a big effort."
Older sons Farhad, 21, and Adnan, 19, also plan to take the test. Both graduates of Catalina High, they feel confident enough to forgo the classes.
It cost about $2,000 for the three of them to apply for the citizenship test, which can be taken twice.
After Nargis passes her test, her children under the age of 18 will automatically become citizens, says Tucson immigration attorney Gloria Goldman.
Farhad works at a shoe store at Park Place and plans to enroll in the fall at Pima Community College.
Adnan, who works for the nutrition company GNC, is already enrolled at Pima, studying engineering. Both he and Farhad still live at home and help their mother with expenses.
During a rare afternoon off, Adnan eats a meal his mother has prepared of rice, fried tuna patties and yogurt, while watching a soccer game broadcast from Kabul.
The two young announcers on the television screen are dressed in jeans and casual knit shirts. "Everyone wants to be like Americans," says Adnan. "America is good. Here you can be free."
Rahat, 15, the next oldest son, is a freshman at Catalina. Like Sara, he enrolled this past year in Jose Fonseca's bilingual algebra class.
"When they arrived, their English was almost zero," says Fonseca, about Farhad and Adnan, who also took his class. "It took a lot of patience. But math is the universal language."
About 25 kids are in Rahat's class this day, several of them rowdy. But Rahat is quiet and studious. When his teacher calls out his name, Rahat answers, "Yes, sir."
During his free time, Rahat likes to play football in the park with his friends, many of them from Somalia. After high school, he hopes to go to college and eventually become an airline pilot.
Mursal, 13, will be an eighth-grader in the fall at Doolen Middle School. She, too, hopes to become a doctor some day. Next semester, Mashel, 12, and Noman, 11, will join Mursal at Doolen, as sixth-graders, while the youngest girl, Kainat, 8, remains at Blenman Elementary School.
On the next to the last day of school this spring, Noman gave a fifth-grade graduation speech at Blenman as his mother and other family members looked on proudly.
Both Mashel and Noman wore clothing from their native land — Mashel in purple pants, yellow tunic and purple scarf, Noman in a beige tunic, billowy pants, colorful vest and a small, round cap.
"When I came to Blenman I could speak no English," says Noman, who speaks it perfectly today. "It took time to make friends, but by the second grade I had lots of friends."
He ends his speech by thanking his teachers and staff at Blenman. Principal Cathryn DeSalvo then tells a packed house of parents and relatives that Noman speaks several languages and ends with, "Let's give him a big round of applause."
After the speeches are done, the entire graduating class at Blenman faces the audience and sings a song whose lyrics include, "The future's looking good to me."
It certainly appears to be so for the Nabi family.

Desert Leaf, April 2007

"Lifetime of Turmoil Comes to an End at Last"  AZ Daily Star, Dec. 16, 2005

     This is the story of Narguzel "Babushka" Safarova. Her face wreathed with
wrinkles, her eyes a filmy blue, Safarova, 94, Arrived here in June of
2005 from Russia following a lifetime of upheaval.

     "For the first time in our life, it's like we belong," says Babushka's
daughter-in-law, Mekhribon Safarova, 55, speaking through an interpreter.
The two women share a small Midtown apartment with Mekhribon's two sons,
Rashid and Yusuf, daughter-in-law, Safiya; and Rashid and Safiya's young
daughters, Maral and Farida

      The Safarovs - males do not use an "a" at the end of their names - are
Meskhetian Turks. Originally living in southwest Georgia, more than
100,000 of these Turks were deported to Uzbekistan in 1944 on the orders
of Josef Stalin. Many died of starvation or cold on the way.

      In 1989. An outbreak of ethnic violence forced yet another uprooting,
with the Maskhetians scattered across Central Asia, Russia, Ukraine,
Azerbaijan and Turkey.The Safarov family wound up near Moscow. Only
Babushka remembers life in Georgia.

     Her husband was in the army when she and her two children were deported
to Usbekistan on a freight train. "It took 23 days to get there," she
says. Life was hard for Babishka, long a widow, who was forced to work in
the cotton fields. Though the family lived in Uzbekistan for almost 50
years, they never felt it was home.In 1989, they were uprooted again, this
time to a village outside of Moscow.

     Mekhribon, by then a widow herself, worked side by side with her
mother-in-law in the fields, as well as at the local granary. "The
Russians did not like that we were there". Says Mekhribon. The family lived
under one roof, keeping old traditions and worshipping as Muslims.

     They did not make the decision to come to America. America did. This was
explained by the Luther Social Services representative, who sponsored
the Safarov family. Like the Somali Bantu, the USA identified this
particular group of people who had endured long-standing persecution.
About 15,000 Meshketian Turks have been settled in the USA.

     Even though these people had no place to call home, they were unhappy to
learn that they were moving yet again. To them it was another forced

     It got no better when they learned they were coming to Tucson. "We thought
we would be left out  in the desert," says Mekhribon. Instead they were met
at the airport, settled in an apartment and initially helped with
assistance from the state's Department of Economic Security.

     Today Babushka, Mekhribon and Yusuf, who is disabled, receive SSI federal
income supplements, while Rashid, who works full time in in the
housekeeping department at the Westin La Paloma, supports his family.

     A few other members of the family have also settled in Tucson. Still
others remain in Russia. Even so, no one  longs for their former "home".
"I don't even think about  it," says Babushka with a dismissive wave of
her hand. "We have no plans to go anywhere else," says Mekhribon. "It is
so amazing to go out and people smile and wave and say "Hi" to us. That
was never done before."         

by Bonnie Henry

Neto's Tucson by Ernesto Portillo Jr.: American Nightmare                            

In a small West Side apartment festooned with red and green foil decorations, Ramla Ali, a Somali Bantu refugee mother of four, spends most of her days bewildered, frustrated and desperate.
Her husband, Abdullahi M. Iman, also a Somali Bantu refugee, has been held at the Eloy Detention Center for five months for failure to apply for his legal-resident card, commonly known as a green card.
Ali can't understand why her husband, who is legally allowed to live and work in the country because of his refugee status, is being kept from his family."I need him back," she said tearfully. Iman is not alone. A second Somali Bantu refugee from Tucson, Abdi Barut Bere, 30, has been held since Aug. 14 in the privately operated Eloy facility for failure to apply for a green card.The two men were detained by Tucson police last year in separate incidents.Police arrested Iman, 35, on domestic-violence charges on Sept. 3, a police report said. Police arrested Bere on Aug. 9 on suspicion of assaulting his roommate, another Somali refugee, said Officer Frank Amado, spokesman for the Tucson Police Department. Currently there are no charges pending against Iman or Bere, according to Tucson police and Erin Maxwell of the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, a pro-bono legal-support group.When it was discovered that Iman and Bere had not met the green-card requirement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers took them into custody.The immigration hold on Iman and Bere — and their possible deportation — has Tucson's Somali Bantu community nervous, said Barbara Eiswerth, coordinator of the Iskashitaa Refugee Harvesting Network, an African refugee support organization in Tucson."It's absolutely not living the American dream," Eiswerth said.Ali and her husband lived in a squalid, sprawling refugee camp in Kenya for 12 years before coming to America in 2004. The Bantu are descended from slaves from neighboring countries and are not a traditional Somali ethnic group. They fled because of ethnic cleansing during the 1991 Somali civil war.Bantu refugees were assaulted and raped in the camps. In 1999, the U.S. government declared the Bantu a "persecuted minority."
Five years ago, the United States began admitting about 15,000 Somali Bantu, said Dan Van Lehman, co-director of the National Somali Bantu Project at Portland State University in Oregon. The Somalis underwent medical and other inspections and were resettled across the country in about 45 cities in 38 states, he said.
In Tucson there are an estimated 800 Somali Bantu refugee adults and their children, some of whom were born in the U.S., Eiswerth said.Van Lehman said the Somali Bantu are adapting and coping as well as they can, considering the cultural, language and financial challenges. Iman and Bere were working, Eiswerth said.
But Van Lehman is unaware of any other Somali Bantu being held in immigration facilities for failure to apply for a green card.
Refugees are required to "adjust" their legal status within a year after their arrival to become legal residents in compliance with Section 209 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, said Vincent M. Picard, spokesman for ICE of the Department of Homeland Security in Phoenix.Picard could not provide any more information, citing the men's privacy rights.Eiswerth said many Tucson Somali Bantu refugees know about the green-card requirement, but language and financial barriers keep them from complying. Bere doesn't read or write, said his brother, Hussein Ali, who lives in Tucson. Both men came to Tucson in 2004. Maxwell, of the refugee-rights group, said Iman and Bere will remain in detention until their green-card applications are approved. That could take up to a year, and if their applications are denied, they would face deportation hearings, Maxwell said. Iman has started the process, but Bere has not, she said. The application process requires that they have up-to-date immunizations and pay various fees, Eiswerth said. Those can total several hundred dollars. Moreover, Iman and Bere cannot be released on bond because they are considered undocumented, although they entered legally, Maxwell said. The uncertainty has Ali in anguish. She has seen her husband twice in Eloy. In her apartment on El Rio Drive, behind the Trini Alvarez-El Rio Golf Course on West Speedway near North Silverbell Road, Ali cares for her four children, ages 9 months to 8 years. Two of the children attend Tully Elementary Magnet School. Three of them were born in the refugee camp.
"The children are afraid to go to school. They cry for him," Ali said through an interpreter. She can't pay the bills and speaks little English. She is disillusioned. The United States brought them here, and the U.S. put her children's father in prison, she said.
Eiswerth and Somali supporters collect food, diapers and clothes for Ali and her children, and money for his immunizations and green-card fees. But with her husband indefinitely held in detention, Ali said she remains fearful. "We came to live in peace and to live a better life," she said. "This is like killing my family."
Update: Abdullahi M. Iman and Abdi Barut Bere were released from jail on February 23- thanks to the hard work of Babara Eiswerth, a valuable Noor member.
Refugees: They're coming to America  Tucson Citizen April 5, 2008

(The following is only a portion of the original published article.)

Suraia Ehrari, 44, came to Tucson alone, a political
refugee from Afghanistan, in 2002.
She celebrated her first Afghan New Year March 21 as a
U.S. citizen. Today, her table is set with place mats
that read "Home Sweet Home."
Ehrari is one of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis
resettled in the United States since the U.S.
invasions of their countries.
Millions of their countrymen remain displaced in
countries neighboring their war-torn nations. Though
most want to return home, tens of thousands want to
come here.
The U.S. State Department has budgeted for the
admission of 70,000 refugees from around the world for
this federal fiscal year, according to its report to
Congress. About 2,000 refugees are expected from Iraq
and 1,000 from Afghanistan, the report said.
They will be placed in communities around the country
where social service agencies "resettle" them.
Dozens of Iraqis and Afghans will come to Arizona,
most placed in the Phoenix area and others in Tucson.
They will join hundreds already here.
Since 2002, 488 Afghans and 367 Iraqis have been
placed in Arizona, most in Maricopa County.
An influx of 163 Iraqis has arrived in Arizona since
Jan. 1. About 40 came to Tucson.
Ken Briggs directs the Tucson office of the
International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement
agency working with some of the new refugees from Iraq
and Afghanistan.
Most of the new arrivals "suffer from culture shock
and transition shock. They've lived in tough
situations" and at least one has been d, he
said. Some have unrealistic expectations about life in
the United States, he added.
"Our job is to make sure when they get here we adjust
those expectations as soon as possible. For some, it's
a little more challenging than for others."
Ehrari's parents were killed in a mujahedeen rocket
attack in Kabul, where her father was a rug merchant,
she said. She was a college professor who taught
literature and language at Kabul University.
After her parents' slayings, Ehrari fled to Pakistan
and taught in a makeshift high school for Afghan
refugees "with no help from Pakistan," she said. She
also wrote and edited a magazine for Afghans.
In 2001, she applied to the U.N. High Commission on
Refugees for refugee status and asked to come to the
United States or to Canada, where her sister
resettled. About a year later, her application was
approved for the United States.
Ehrari had no choice where she would live, or which
resettlement agency would handle her case.
She came to the International Rescue Committee's
Tucson caseload in July 2002. In September that year,
she started working full time at a day care center and
then a preschool.
"I like working," she said.
To Ehrari's friends, the preschool job was a big step
back. But to her, it was a key step forward. Life in
Afghanistan is very tough now, she said.
She watches news from Afghanistan on satellite TV and
is upset by what she sees.
"People don't have anything. No food. International
aid can't get there. Sheep, cows: They die. No food,
no water. Snow. They freeze to. A woman could
never live by herself there. It would not be safe,"
she said. "Now, my life is safe."
About 67 percent of all applications for U.S. refugee
status are approved, according to the State
In Tucson, four nonprofit refugee resettlement
agencies are working with refugees from Iraq and
Afghanistan and other countries.
Refugees can get Social Security cards immediately and
can work legally in the United States. They get
subsidized mental health services, employment services
and case management for up to five years.
A refugee can apply to become a naturalized U.S.
citizen in five years.
The agencies receive $425 in government funds for each
refugee's initial expenses: rental housing, food,
clothing and transportation - a bus pass - for the
first month. s must go to work as soon as
possible before that money runs out.
One month after arriving here, they are eligible for
state and federally funded assistance. The
resettlement agencies make sure they get to a Social
Security office and to an initial medical screening.
"Most go to Pima County (its subsidized health plans)
or University Physicians. They get their immunizations
and immediate medical needs taken care of," Briggs

Expenses are also a concern for Ehrari, whose
situation is exacerbated by health problems that
prevent her from working.
She worries about her country, has high blood pressure
and suffered two stress-induced strokes last year. She
sees a physical therapist twice a week.
Ehrari struggles to feed herself with $88 in food
stamps each month.
"I have to buy cheaper, cheaper food," she said a few
days ago.
Like other workers who have paid into the federal
Social Security system, Ehrari is eligible for
Supplemental Security Income. Her monthly allotment is
She pays rent on a federally subsidized apartment and
makes monthly car payments.
Her English skills are good, but communication has
been a problem for other refugees and the social
workers helping them.
Iraqis' native language is Arabic. Afghans speak
Pashti or Dari.
Some who work with refugees said at the state's annual
refugee conference in Phoenix this week that local
nonprofits have few native speakers and not enough
translators to meet the demand.
"English is huge," said Charles Shipman, who directs
Arizona's federally funded Refugee Resettlement
Though he said Pima Community College "does a great
job" offering English as a second language classes
that are helpful to refugees, Shipman pointed out
other obstacles. "How do you get around town when you
work full time?"
The language classes meet federal resettlement
guidelines for "accessible" but "how accessible is
accessible?" Shipman asked. "For some people it's more
difficult. People are struggling.
"We have to find some approach that strengthens people
and their ability to do things."
The language barrier makes it more difficult for
refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan to blend into
community life.
There is suspicion by some that new refugees could be
terrorists. But Tucsonans have nothing to fear, Briggs
said, explaining "The screening Homeland Security does
is extensive.
"With the FBI, the whole government apparatus for the
screening of refugees who come into the United States,
that concern should be allayed," he said.
In the haste to get the most recent Iraqis here,
however, not all of them got the cultural briefing the
State Department gives to prepare refugees for life in
America, Shipman said.
Some thought they would not have to work but they
quickly learned they were expected to take low-paying
jobs as hotel maids or dishwashers.
Most have found jobs but many are making less than $10
an hour. The average starting wage for the refugees in
Arizona is "roughly $7.50 an hour," Briggs said.
The refugees get to work by bicycle, walking or taking
the bus. Some pool their resources and share a
vehicle, thanks to loan programs that help them get a
car earlier than they might otherwise, he said.
Retail, hospitality and manufacturing employers here
are hiring the refugees, Briggs said. "Employers in
Tucson have been great. They are in dire need and our
refugee clients fit the bill."

                      By Sheryl Kornman


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