Not long after a U.S. military plane carrying an anxious cargo of Afghan refugees had taken off from Kabul en route to Germany, a young mother aboard gave birth to her second child.
As the News & Record’s Nancy McLaughlin reported last week, a fellow passenger helped to deliver the infant girl on the floor of the aircraft.
Somehow it all seemed fitting, if not exactly ideal: a new life, soon to be followed by a new beginning for her, her 22-year-old mother, her 27-year-old father and her 2-year-old big sister. In Greensboro.
That family was among the first refugees from Afghanistan to arrive in the Triad and, in fact, in all of North Carolina.
It had been a long, strange trip filled with unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar places and a blurry blend of weariness and joy.
From Germany they flew to Texas and then to North Carolina.
They were greeted with signs and balloons held by a gaggle of smiling people whom they had never met before.
The congregation at College Park Baptist Church has provided a home for the family in north Greensboro and stocked it with furniture and fresh linen. The church also has paid several months of the family’s rent.
A former Moses Cone nurse who interpreted for the U.S. military in Afghanistan served as a translator.
And a local refugee resettlement agency, the N.C. African Services Coalition, as well as Church World Service and World Relief Triad, are coordinating the arrivals of Afghan refugees locally. As many as 20 more Afghan refugees were expected to arrive here last week, including a family of six.
All told, about 1,200 Afghan refugees are expected to resettle in North Carolina over the next 30 days. Nationally, tens of thousands will enter the U.S. over the next several months.
But this is the least we can do. Afghans who risked their lives to aid U.S. troops during the 20-year war faced reprisals and possibly death at the hands of the Taliban.
As for that first family to arrive here, neither the exact location of the house or the names of the family have been released to preserve their privacy and allow them time to adjust.
But you should know their story and you should know why bringing them to safety here is the only right and decent thing to do.
Even though still in his 20s,the husband arrived at Piedmont Triad International Airport in a wheelchair. He struggles to walk because he was shot twice in the legs while serving with U.S. troops. They had come under fire along a dark road during a Taliban ambush that cost one of the Americans his life.
The young father still holds on to an Air Force Reserve Command patch given to him by U.S. soldiers. And he holds fast to his hope that wheelchairs and labored steps will in time soon fade into memory.
“I’m anxious to be able to walk,” he told the News & Record through the interpreter.
He and other Afghans worked in good faith with their U.S. allies and served honorably and courageously. This is how we can repay them.
Not that it will be easy — for them or for us.
There will be language and cultural barriers to overcome. And their needs will be many, including food, housing, jobs and health care.
So the relief agencies are reaching out to the community for help.
For its part, Greensboro has established a strong tradition over the years for welcoming refugees from all over the world, including Montagnards from the highlands of Vietnam who fought bravely alongside U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.
We’ve also had our share of missteps.
In May 2018, five children of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo died in a fire in a northeast Greensboro apartment complex that was cited and fined for a shameful litany of housing code violations. The tragedy exposed a negligent landlord who took advantage of refugee tenants and for far too long got away with it. It also made clear that resettled refugees need support and orientation well beyond their initial arrival.
Then there are the needs of the people who already are here. A high poverty rate persists. Affordable housing is severely lacking in this community as it is.
But the spirit of charity has never been based solely on the size of one’s wealth. We give what we can.
So that spirit will be tested again. As it has been tested ever since refugees first arrived on these shores.
But as we know from our history, immigrants and refugees built this community and this country.
And our kindnesses to strangers will be repaid, as they have been many times before.