Refuge After War: In Seattle, Afghan women bond through cooking

At Project Feast, recently resettled female refugees navigate the challenges of living in a new country.

This is the one episode of the Refuge After War series that focuses on women only. We wanted to address the unique challenges Afghan women face, and it just so happened that Project Feast was about to host a group of Afghan women and that the organization’s executive director is a Vietnamese refugee now involved in sponsoring Afghan refugees. 

Based in Kent, Project Feast is a nonprofit that provides refugees and immigrants with hands-on vocational training to gain a footing in Washington’s commercial food industry.

One of the many moving aspects of this story was watching Van Nguyen, Project Feast’s executive director, come full circle as she reflected on her own family’s escape from postwar Vietnam. She is too young to remember the details of her first days in America, but the volume of refugees needing help has been at times overwhelming.

Project Feast usually hosts multicultural groups, allowing apprentices to work alongside refugees and immigrants from different backgrounds and languages to further enrich the experience. An Afghan-only cohort of apprentices faced unique challenges, particularly their fairly recent shared trauma. Language barriers made training take longer than usual. Stress at home sometimes transferred into the classroom. For some, food triggered memories of home and forced separation from their loved ones. Nguyen and her fellow teachers established solutions on the fly, including a time-out space for students to take a mental health break to recover from emotion. 

We were honored to meet with the Afghan women working in Project Feast and hear their stories of navigating life in a new country. We ended up highlighting two apprentices, Wida and Mursal, who met during their evacuation from Afghanistan. The two formed an unshakable bond over months of seeking refuge in Europe, a months-long stay at a U.S. military base, and now as newly resettled refugees in Washington. They have become sisters and best friends. 

One moment in this episode is particularly difficult to watch - proving that as amazing as these refugees are, they are still in trauma. We’re including it to show the reality of the refugee experience.  

While the subject of mental health has come up in previous interviews for this series, it felt particularly urgent to address in this episode. We spoke with Laurie Reyman and Frishta Attayee from Seattle’s International Rescue Committee. They lead the Salamati Rohi Project, a program centered around holistic wellness and adjustment services for recently resettled Afghans. 

Reyman and Attayee provided critical insight into the necessity of mental health support for refugees. For them, these mental health services and interventions are as key as the basic housing, food, and job support most commonly associated with the resettlement process. 

It is my sincere hope that any viewers experiencing the trauma of displacement will know that they are not alone in feeling isolated, scared and anxious about their future. As a child of refugees who came from a community that had no vocabulary at the time to describe our collective pain or to process the impact of trauma, I believe wholeheartedly in the need to end the stigma around discussing mental health. 


Listen to ‘Refuge After War’ director Thanh Tan discuss the origins of the series on the Crosscut Reports podcast:

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About the Authors & Contributors

Image of Than Tan

Thanh Tan

Thanh Tan is an award-winning multimedia storyteller and creator/host of Second Wave, a groundbreaking podcast from PRX and KUOW tracing the experiences of Vietnamese refugees after the war ended in 1975. Her reporting and writing has been featured across all platforms, including This American Life, The Seattle Times and The New York Times.