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One of the Afghan refugees who settled in Helena recently was a government official in his homeland.

He’s now very low on the totem tree, according to Valerie Hellermann (executive director of Hands On Global Helena), which is sponsoring the Afghan refugee resettlement programme. He feels like there is no job for him. We were talking about very low-skilled jobs to start when he was looking for work.

Before he can get a job with good pay, he will need to get a professional license. Although it is possible, it will take some time.

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Hellermann said that I have spent a lot time with him and invited him to my house. He is intelligent and well-educated.

While he faces a long road ahead, his prospects in Afghanistan were much more grim.

Hellermann stated that the person here was on the Taliban’s hit list. He also said that two of his colleagues had been murdered recently. He was forced to flee very quickly and had no family left behind.

He is also in better health than the refugees who are just starting their new lives.

Hellermann said that they’re always waiting for their lives to begin. They cannot finish schools or universities if the university is destroyed or they are shot while on their way to school. They are waiting to start their lives.



Valerie Hellermann, executive director of Hands On Global

Valerie Hellermann (executive director of Hands On Global), leads a meeting recently of the Helena Afghan Refugee Settlement Team.




Several local employers such as Carroll College, The Bagel Co. or Real Food Market & Deli already indicated their willingness to offer employment opportunities to Afghan refugees arriving in Helena. Hellermann explained that while these are not high-paying jobs they will be able get their English up to par and meet the community.

Hands On Global will bring 15 refugees to Helena through the newly formed Helena Afghan Refugee Resettlement Team, (HARRT).

Many of the refugees are young children who will need enrollment in the public school system.

According to the Aschiana Foundation (a nonprofit that invests in education and well-being for vulnerable children in Afghanistan), about 60% of school age boys and 30% of girls go to school in Afghanistan.

Elinor Edmunds of East Helena stated that some girls haven’t gone to school at all or started later. She was a volunteer for Aschiana Foundation and has been to Afghanistan eight times.

Miller stated that even if children in Afghanistan had attended school once, Miller said they aren’t going to school now as it is not safe.

Hellermann stated that it will be difficult for refugees to find halal food. Halal food is food that conforms to the Islamic faith. Miller said that she has Afghan friends who won’t eat pork, but love beef, lamb, and chicken. She is hopeful that an entrepreneur will be able to cater to the growing needs of the Montanan Afghan population.



A Helena Afghan Refugee Resettlement Team volunteer

Volunteers from the AHelena Afghan Refugee Settlement Team hold up a prayer rug for Afghan refugees in Helena.

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We would love it if there was an Afghan food truck, or Afghan restaurant, so we could also enjoy their food, she said. There are great opportunities for cultural exchange.

Miller said that there are no mosques located in Helena. However, the Afghans can pray in their own homes. HARRT has prayer rugs and will allow refugees to practice their faith in its downtown office. Dr. Mark Ibsen will rent it out for four months.

HARRT also helps refugees to connect with legal services and immigration, with the assistance of a local immigration lawyer who has offered to work pro bono.

Miller stated that Helena may not have much in common with Afghanistan’s war-torn country, but that there is a strong resemblance.

We were surrounded by mountains, and Kabul has mountains. She said that it is a dry climate and that we have a dry one. It can feel like home because of the many similarities.



Helena Afghan Refugee Resettlement Team volunteers,

Helena Afghan Refugee Resettlement Team volunteers Kim Schleicher and Karen Cooper sort through clothing donations recently for incoming Afghan refugees.




You can reach Editor Jesse Chaney at 406-447-4074 or on Twitter @IR_JesseChaney.

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