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‘I am free to learn’: 17-year-old Afghan refugee excited for future in EdmontonOUS News

Nargis and her six family members arrived in Edmonton in January 2022. The 17-year-old fled to Kabul with her three brothers, sister-in-law and parents when Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021.

“I was writing my last exam,” Nargis recalled. “It was Tuesday and Wednesday will be my last day of exams. On Tuesday we were all writing our exams and the teacher (said): ‘We are leaving. It doesn’t matter how many questions you’ve already answered, just leave it and go home safely.

It was chaos, Nargis said. Everything happened so quickly.

“We really couldn’t believe the Taliban would have captured Kabul, because nobody believed they could capture the nation’s capital.”

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After dropping out of school that day, Nargis could do nothing but think about her education and her future.

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“My mother told me that about 20 years ago, during the Taliban era, girls were not allowed to go to school. But I could never believe it because I thought: ‘This is the 21st century!’

“When I got home, that was the last day I saw my school. That was the last day I saw my friends.”

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Within a few hours, Nargis and some of her family members packed the essentials and left.

“Nothing was normal,” she said. “People were walking around the city, but there was nowhere to escape.”

His family took a bus and then set off to cross the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. As part of the Hazara ethnic minority, the family felt particularly at risk.

Nargis’s elder brother is also a prominent human rights defender.

Nargis said, ‘For the first 20 days (in Pakistan) I did not talk, I only cried.’ “We had nowhere to go and there was no hope. I was so scared. When we found out we had been accepted to come to Canada, it was the first time I had hope again.

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After five months of hiding, she and her brothers were accepted into Canada under the Immigration Section of the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Human Rights Defenders.

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Because Nargis’s family in Afghanistan is still at risk, Global News is identifying her using only her first name.

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Catholic Social Services helped families find housing, offering settlement support, counseling and orientation sessions to adjust to life in Canada.

Nargis was part of a group of 170 Afghan refugees – nearly half of whom were under the age of 18 – who came to Edmonton. So far this year, CSS has helped resettle 800 Afghan refugees in Edmonton and Red Deer.

The organization is seeing a rise in demand.

“What we’re experiencing right now is unlike anything we’ve seen before,” CEO Troy Davis said. “A mix of environmental disaster, war and the reopening of Canada’s borders have increased needs.”

Canada has promised to bring in 40,000 Afghan refugees, of whom about 18,000 have already arrived. CSS expects at least 1,000 more to arrive in the central Alberta region. Several hundred are also expected to come through a private sponsorship program.

CSS says it is set up to serve about 500 government-aided refugees per year. Right now, it is serving over 1,200.

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“And it continues to grow,” said Katherine Frisson, director of immigration and settlement for CSS.

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CSS receives government funding for basic needs like housing and food, but offers other services and programs – funded through donations – that help with the transition.

“In order to equip people and set them up to be successful in Canada, we need these additional supports through funding, such as signs of hope,” Friesen explained.

This year, CSS is looking to raise $2.6 million.

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Nargis said that CSS’s support helped her a lot, especially school supplies like her tablets and mental health counseling.

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“A lot of people like me are struggling with mental health. When I came to Canada I had a lot of problems apart from leaving the country. Two weeks before I came to Canada, I lost my mother.

“When I came here, I was struggling a lot with mental health,[but]I found a psychologist, a doctor, who could help me.”

Nargis started class 12 this fall. There is a difference of night and day between a school in Afghanistan and a school in Canada.

“When I came to Canada, I realized that… was not the same as before.

“Every day we were all leaving the house with this fear: whether we will find (alive) home or not. Every week there were two or three bombings in Kabul and different parts of Afghanistan, especially educational places. But here instead of hearing the sound of bombs, the sound of gunfire, I am hearing the sound of birds, the sound of birds. And I’m free to learn.”

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She also appreciates the diversity here.

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“One of the very interesting discoveries I discovered about schools in Canada: You see an image of the world. There are people from every country, you see everyone from different parts of the world. You get an idea of ​​their cultures. And you can learn their language too. I have friends who speak Somali or Arabic, and I learn a little about their language and we can communicate in each other’s language.”

Nargis speaks Persian and English, and is using her tablet to learn French. However, her major interest is science – medicine in particular.

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While she is excited about what her future holds, she thinks deeply about the girls and women still living in Afghanistan, including her three sisters.

“After living in Edmonton, Canada, everything has changed in my life. I started going to school, I met new friends. Outside of school, I do some volunteer work… I started to learn skating and hockey. This is my life in Canada,” Nargis said.

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“There are still thousands of girls in Afghanistan who cannot go to school. Last night I spoke to a friend of mine and he said: ‘We wonder if we will be able to go back to school in Taliban times.’ Their dreams are being destroyed… They want to be doctors, they want to be engineers, but they are at home. They can’t go to school.

“I really want the world to hear our voices and feel compassion for not only us but helping us as well.”

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