Refuge After War: Vietnamese refugees aid displaced Afghans

Sponsor Circles are empowering private citizens across the U.S. to provide resettlement support.

In the days immediately following the fall of Kabul in 2021, as thousands of Afghans fled, the world was mortified by what they saw on the news. At the time I was more focused on volunteering with Viets for Afghans and doing whatever we could to help incoming refugees.

By the fall, our little mutual aid project had become the first to pilot a federal program called Sponsor Circles, an emergency response in a time of crisis meant to supplement the existing, but very broken, resettlement infrastructure. Sponsor Circles empowered private citizens in communities across the country to raise funds and provide resettlement support for Afghan refugees who were being housed on American military bases and in need of safe refuge. 

Among those who stepped up to help as private sponsors were Linh Peters and Terry Tran, two women who had fled Vietnam with their families when they were young. Connected through Viets for Afghans, their circle of five sponsors signed up to support Mohammad (introduced in episode 2) and his family for up to 90 days. 

Mohammad’s family is greeted at the airport by their sponsors. (Courtesy of Joshua Trujillo)

Linh and Terry remain involved and engaged with Mohammad’s family a year after they greeted them at the airport. The above photo, featured in this episode, is by local photojournalist Joshua Trujillo, himself a sponsor of Afghan refugees. If I had to choose one photo to define the power of refugees helping refugees, it would be this one. 

What has been most moving to me was learning our volunteers’ motivations for helping. Linh, the chief marketing officer for Walgreens, maintains a strong relationship with her family’s sponsor in her native Minnesota – naming her daughter after her and starting a scholarship in her name at her alma mater. 

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Terry, a good friend and mother of two in the Seattle area, also remains incredibly active, leveraging her experience over the past year as an advisor for the Community Sponsorship Hub, which is responsible for supporting the Biden Administration’s newly expanded private sponsorship program, called Welcome Corps.

Both were present, along with Mohammad, at a meeting in December with U.S. State Department officials visiting Seattle to learn more about the private sponsorship model.

Thanh, Terry and Mohammad were present at a meeting in December with U.S. State Department officials visiting Seattle to learn more about the private sponsorship model. (Courtesy of Thanh Tan)

Individuals really can make a difference, especially when they come together to form a team and divvy up responsibilities. 

Mohammad and his family are largely on their own now, but I’m certain the bond they have with their sponsors will last a long time. 

In this episode, we also feature the work of the Afghan Health Initiative. Refugees are facing so many challenges on so many fronts right now. I appreciate AHI executive director Navid Hamid for being frank and providing context for what is happening within his Afghan community. AHI and its staff continue to be an important bridge to the Afghan and refugee populations. They need continued support to sustain and educate as many people as possible.

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.