New non-profit formed to aid Afghan refugees arriving in Nashville
(Will Chappell) — Three Middle Tennessee residents founded Tennessee Resettlement Aid (TRA) last fall to help Afghan refugees arriving in Nashville after the Taliban’s overthrow of the American backed government there last August.
TRA has 75 volunteers who have helped almost all the 500 Afghan refugees who have resettled in Middle Tennessee to date. In addition to coordinating donations of food, clothes and household necessities, TRA helps Afghans with transportation needs, legal and medical services, and career opportunities.
Katie Finn was working for a Middle Tennessee organization that was tasked with resettling refugees in the fall. She realized that arriving Afghans were not receiving the help that they needed to start successful lives in America due to the large and unexpected influx of refugees.
Finn put out a call for help on social media, which Julie Pine responded to. Finn and Pine came together one Saturday to organize donations. While distributing these donations in the Afghan community the pair met Saleem Tahiri, an Afghan who had arrived in Nashville in 2017 and was also offering help to arriving refugees. Together, Finn, Pine and Tahiri founded TRA. Pine said that she was quickly immersed in the organization’s mission after meeting several Afghans. “They have done so much for our country. They’ve done so much to stand up for democracy in the world and we really feel strongly that they deserve our friendship and warm welcome,” she said.
For Afghans, like Aziz, TRA has been a vital support. Aziz still has family in Afghanistan so we can’t use his full name. Aziz worked with United Nations personnel in Afghanistan as an information technology specialist for more than a decade before the Taliban’s rapid reconquest of Afghanistan last year. After escaping Kabul in late August, and spending time in Qatar, Bahrain and Indiana, Aziz arrived in Nashville in early December.
He was dropped at his hotel with vouchers for food and medical supplies, but little else. He was quickly contacted by TRA. Pine said that after working with the Afghan community for several months, the organization quickly learns of new refugees when they arrive in Nashville. Aziz was picked up and taken to a meeting with several other refugees and TRA volunteers.
He was quickly assigned a mentor, who helped him to adjust his resume and begin applying for jobs. He found a job at FedEx and has begun working with the organization in his free time, assisting others in the Afghan community. “I really appreciate them. They really helped us, and they helped us with everything,” he said.
Pine said that the organization is looking for more ways to help the new Afghan community in the city moving forward, including trying to find a way to facilitate the evacuation of family members still in Afghanistan. She said they are also monitoring the ongoing war in Ukraine and are ready to be of assistance if Ukrainians or other groups need help settling in Tennessee. Visit TRA's website to learn more about them and to find opportunities to volunteer.