Education has been a lifelong pursuit for Farkhonda Tahery, long before the Afghan refugee arrived in Saskatoon almost three months ago.
As a girl, she loved to read, watch movies and paint. Growing up in Kabul, she first aspired to be a doctor like her father, but encountered philosophy and sociology in her later school years. It put her on the path to working at a research company in Afghanistan.
“By our definition, life was very normal,” Tahery said in an interview.
She grew up in a time when the Taliban had largely been forced into hiding. Their fundamentalist beliefs, which prevent girls from being educated, were also suppressed.
Tahery attended university and achieved a bachelor’s degree.
Life began to change in April, according to Tahery, when U.S. President Joe Biden announced plans to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan.
“We saw the first red flags after that because some districts started to fall under the Taliban,” Tahery said.
While living in Kabul, she and her husband watched media reports of one provincial capital falling after another. By Aug. 15, the Taliban had taken control of Kabul.
“The city changed just overnight,” Tahery said. “We lost our home to people that we never wanted them to have our homes.”
Their plan to leave via the airport in Kabul was interrupted on Aug. 26, when a suicide bomber launched an attack at a gate to the airport. Several dozen were killed right before Tahery and her husband were set to leave the country.
Instead, they travelled to another province, then Mexico and eventually Saskatoon. She still has family in Afghanistan, where Tahery said people don’t feel safe and grapple with a depressed economy.
“Worst of all, girls are not allowed to go to school. I have very close relatives that are just staying home because they cannot go to school,” Tahery said.
Tahery is now among the many people supported by Global Gathering Place (GGP), a resettlement agency in the city.
Since her arrival, Tahery has taken adult swimming lessons through the organization and taken part in winter preparedness sessions. She’s looking forward to outdoor activities like skiing.
The resettlement agency connects newcomers with health care services and life skills training. The case management program helps people overcome barriers like language, illness and disability.
GGP has launched an online fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $5,000 by the end of the year. Tahery’s story is featured to promote the effort that raises money for unforeseen circumstances that the organization hasn’t budgeted for: things like transportation, medication costs and groceries.
The fundraising drive arises largely as a result of the pandemic. The influx of Afghan refugees has also had an impact, according to Melanie Baerg, GGP’s health and case coordination team lead.
“It means that we have an increased need for funding all around, and especially for this kind of emergency support that we provide to newcomers,” Baerg said.
Asked what she’d like the public to know about Afghan refugees, Tahery said the newcomers are capable of making their communities a better place.
“We are going to be good citizens.”
At least 215 Afghan nationals have come to Saskatchewan in recent months, according to data from the federal government. The figure could be much higher as a result of privately sponsored refugees and others who arrived through Canada’s humanitarian program.