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Afghanistan to Wisconsin: Refugees in need of hope, healing, and home

January 28th, 2022

In August 2021, tens of thousands of Afghans fled their homeland with nearly 13,000 settling at Fort McCoy military base in Wisconsin. While processing the traumatic experience of fleeing their country and navigating uncertainty, some families faced an added crisis with their child’s critical healthcare needs. When the families required support, American Family Children’s Hospital knew exactly who to call.

“The biggest challenge [for families] was to manage a sick child in the midst of complete unknown about where and when they would end up being permanently resettled in the US. They had to navigate understanding the processes and culture of a country they had never been in, not speaking any English, and all of it right after a harrowing evacuation from Afghanistan and now facing a sick child. RMHC-Madison was an essential partner in meeting the families’ needs,” said Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, UW Health Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

As soon as the first Afghan refugee family arrived, RMHC-Madison partnered with UW Health and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families to assess immediate family needs and develop a plan to meet those needs. Within hours, families were able to rely on RMHC-Madison for housing, food, and transportation to the hospital and grocery store.

When the first family moved into the Ronald McDonald House, they visited the playground right away. As the kids jumped and played with screams of joy and sounds of laughter, their mom cried and said how happy she was that her kids were able to play safely. When more Afghan families moved in, we saw the mothers using the seating areas outside of their rooms to talk to one another. They would also cook together in the kitchen sharing food and meals. The Ronald McDonald House became a home and a community for the families.

“This is exactly what RMHC is about — helping people find community, comfort, and collaboration in a kitchen, on a playground, in a seating area outside your room — to feel moments of joy in difficult life experiences,” said Nadya Pérez-Reyes, Assistant Secretary at Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

“RMHC specializes in providing comfort, care, and support to families when it matters most. Without the Ronald McDonald House, these families would have been separated and forced to choose which parent would stay with the siblings at Fort McCoy and which parent would be at the bedside of their hospitalized child. Having already endured trauma during the evacuation from Afghanistan, keeping the families together was our top priority,” said Kelly Ruppel, Executive Director, RMHC-Madison.

Through the generous support of RMHC Global, SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Madison, CUNA Mutual Foundation, and St.Luke’s we were able to provide additional support of culturally appropriate food, clothing, and other needed supplies.  Local restaurants and chefs also came forward to provide culturally appropriate meals –  Laila Borokhim and Nausheen Qureishi volunteered their time to cook meals for our families. This support was essential to our ability to help these families feel at home… even when they couldn’t be.

A word of thanks

“Thank you to all the staff at Ronald McDonald House for all their services to my family because they put all their resources at our service. Thank you for their precious gifts to my son, Hanzaleh. The good memory I have of that house was their endless love for us that did not leave us alone,” said Ahamd Reyaz Faizi, RMHC-Madison guest family.