Linda Pegg and Becky Meadows may be done with nursing after hanging up their scrubs, but they aren’t done helping people in need. They recently started volunteering with International Institute Southwest Missouri to sponsor refugees from Afghanistan relocating to the U.S. Now both women are sponsorship group leaders, balancing several refugee cases at once.
“It’s changed my life. I just really treasure these people,” said Pegg, who is balancing five resettlement cases. “Experiencing their culture and faith, very different from mine. They’re very good people who don’t know anybody here. We’re it. It makes them feel welcome, and that they’re loved.”
The U.S. has taken in some 76,000 Afghan refugees since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in the summer of 2021. Mohammad Fahim Ahmadi remembers being ripped away from his wife and family days after the insurgency. He was working as an airline attendant with dreams of becoming a pilot when he was forced to leave the country.
Ahmadi landed in Springfield, Missouri as part of the refugee program.
“The main thing I am suffering from is not having my family,” said Ahmadi, who talks to his wife on the phone every day. “I miss them. They’re not in a safe situation.” He says he feels safe in the U.S. but still longs for his home country and his old way of life.
Each sponsorship group works with up to 15 individuals who are responsible for some part of the transition process. Pegg and Meadows say the families are all different from each other. Some are large, while others have just one or two small children. The women often throw parties for the new residents to celebrate all kinds of events, including those that largely went unnoticed in Afghanistan.
“Our goal is to get them integrated with the community,” said International Institute Southwest Missouri director Rebekah Thomas. “A lot of the time, they won’t feel comfortable being around people from outside of their country, but we want them to feel welcome and a part of (Springfield).”
The refugees are from all different backgrounds with some from small rural areas and others coming from large urban areas with college degrees. Most don’t have family or ties to the U.S., which can make the process all the more challenging. Ahmadi enjoys his life here but said the experience of moving to another country with a different set of beliefs was jarring to say the least.
“In (the United States), you can follow your own ideas and beliefs. You can have freedom and a safe and secure life,” Ahmadi said. “It doesn’t matter what shift you’re working, day or night. Everything is nice and good here.”
And he is making the most of his new life in America. He is currently a graduate student at Missouri State University and a caseworker at the International Institute of Southwest Missouri, working to help resettle other refugees from Afghanistan.
Ahmadi first met Pegg after crashing his bicycle around the neighborhood. The injury made his depression worse, but Pegg quickly became like a second mother to him. “It’s so good to have someone,” said Ahmadi of his relationship with the former nurse. He still hopes to get back to Afghanistan once it is safe to return, or be reunited with his loved ones in America.
Both retired nurses said the experience has been extremely rewarding. “I thought my career as a nurse was the fulfilling career,” said Meadows. “But this is more fulfilling.”