In the early 1980s, Shahla Naimi’s mother arrived at a United States air force base in California as a refugee from Afghanistan. Weary from her journey, she was met by a group of volunteers who welcomed her to her new home. So began her new life in the United States.
40 years later, Shahla – a Senior Program Manager at Google – found herself at a government facility in New Jersey where she partnered with the International Rescue Committee to welcome 9,000 Afghans who’d fled the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.
“I didn’t realize how many times my heart could break,” says Shahla. “It was the most emotionally and physically exhausting experience I’ve ever had – and perhaps the most rewarding one as well. As an Afghan and as an American, it pushed me in unexpected ways to see my own people so newly displaced from their homes.”
We recently took some time to ask Shahla about her work with the IRC.
What are your ties with Afghanistan?
I am Afghan! I grew up in south L.A. in the wake of 9/11, fairly isolated from the broader Afghan-American community but surrounded by fellow immigrants from all over the world.
I traveled to Afghanistan for the first time in 2011, when my uncle encouraged me to visit him in Kabul. Walking around the city, I saw my parent’s faces everywhere I went. Similar features, same classic Afghan expressions. Afghans from the diaspora occupy a complicated space in Afghanistan, and I was grateful to feel so welcomed.