ST. LOUIS — Fahima Band Ali doesn't take this moment for granted.
Studying on campus, she knows this opportunity could've been stripped away.
"I'm super grateful I am here, I couldn't imagine living in Afghanistan and not having ways to improve myself," Band Ali said Monday afternoon. "I originally moved from Kabul, Afghanistan. When I was there, some bombing attacks were happening, you can hear the sounds and everything. It was a bunch of devastation."
She found her safe haven in St. Louis back in 2017.
It'll be a move thousands of Afghan refugees are about to make.
International Institute's CEO Arrey Obenson says the number of Afghans coming to St. Louis has bumped up from 1,000 to 1,500.
Yet, the mass transfers have paused due to a measles outbreak. They had to wait three weeks until the outbreak was controlled.
However, in the last month alone, about 50 Afghans have come to St. Louis.
"They are here and we're already providing them with the services that they need, so when an Afghan shows up by that doors we have to find their housing. We're waiting for the big wave that will eventually come, but it's really important for the community to know that Afghans are trickling in," Obenson adds.
To prep for that, the support has also been overwhelming.
Just with online donations, $300,000 has been added.
Band Ali's own fundraiser is a part of that effort with almost $3,000 raised.
"I really wanted to do something," she said.
Now, with an overflow of contributions, help is a must.
Obenson notes there are three things needed currently:
- More volunteers to sort through the items and create welcome home baskets for new arrivals
- Financial contributions
"There's always going to be a funding gap between what the federal government provides and ramping up capacity in staffing," Obenson said.
He adds they are trying to get a second van for transportation.
As for staff, 12 positions are open.
Plus, if there are any landlords or property owners who can assist:
- 280 three- to four-bedroom apartments are needed
- Another 40 to 50 single- or two-bedroom apartments are critical
As they get ready, Band Ali is excited to welcome new arrivals to a place she now calls home.
"I will be visiting them in person and tell them if they need anything, I can help in any way. Having them here, it means St. Louis is giving them a second chance of life," she said.
If you'd like to volunteer, slots are open every Tuesday and Thursday. You can click here to sign up.
Also, coming up is a Race for Refugees run on Saturday, November 20, 2021.
It started back in 2017 in response to the initial federal ban on seven Muslim-majority nations.
All proceeds go directly to the International Institute of St. Louis.
Runners can choose between a live chip-timed 5K or 1-mile Fun Run and a virtual 5K.
Since its inaugural event, it has raised more than $20,000 for the local refugee and immigrant community through the International Institute.