News – January 14, 2022

Dear Members and Friends,

This week, we're very proud to share with you an update from the Unitarian Universalist Afghan Refugee Support Team. We are thankful for all our volunteers and donors for generously giving their time and their financial support to this collaborative effort.

Afghan Refugee Support: Playing a Part in Houston’s History

By The Unitarian Universalist Afghan Refugee Support Team

Prophetic City: Houston on the Cusp of a Changing America represents decades of research by Rice Professor Stephen Klineberg, who sees our hometown as “the quintessential American city”. What happens in Houston doesn’t stay in Houston, argues Klineberg, but rather sets the stage for the rest of the U.S. The book is an especially interesting read now, as the expected arrival of 6,000+ Afghan refugees marks a watershed moment in Houston’s history.

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston has the privilege of playing an active role in these events. Under the leadership of two of our long-term members, Linda R. and Thorpe B., and with the support of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church and Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, we formed a Welcome Team through Interfaith Ministries (IM), one of Houston’s resettlement agencies. In November, IM matched our team with a warm and friendly Pastho-speaking family of eight, headed by Gul and Ikhlas Bibi.

The couple left Kabul with their five children, ranging in age from 14 to 3, to avoid Taliban reprisal for Gul’s work with the Afghan Special Forces. Their youngest child was born this fall on a US military base. The family is now settled in a 3-BR apartment in NW Houston, in a complex with several other newly-arrived Afghan families. The older children are anxious to begin school, and the whole family is looking forward to studying English.

Our role is to help them feel welcome in their new home, and become integrated into their new city. Welcome Team members have already been able to assist with tasks like registering the children for school, driving the family to halal butchers’ shops, and ensuring that everyone has seasonal clothing. The team has also raised over $8,000 to meet needs not provided by their resettlement funds, and to give the family more time to become self-sufficient after the phase-out of federal cash assistance.

One of the most important forms of support we can provide is for English-language learning. To this end, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church has recruited over 12 trained volunteer English teachers, from their pre-pandemic ESL program. Beginning this month, these volunteer English teachers will offer classes and tutoring to the family. These volunteers may go on offer classes and language learning support more broadly to other Afghan newcomers within the same apartment complex.

Klineberg’s book reminds us of the great opportunity and responsibility we have as members of First Unitarian Universalist Church, situated in the heart of Houston, to shape how Unitarian Universalists respond to major social changes in the coming years. It’s a privilege to be able to play a small part in a historic wave of migration that, like previous waves, will surely shape and enrich Houston’s culture and economy for decades to come.

Current Donation Needs:
Gently-used electronics (tablets, laptops, smartphones etc.), that can be used to access the internet;
2.       New or gently-used children's clothing of all sizes, to be distributed to multiple families (including new packages of socks and underwear);
3.       Pre-paid Visa gift cards.

For more information about the Welcome Team, and to volunteer or donate supplies, please email, or speak to Linda or Thorpe.