Reflections on our Afghan response, a year after the fall of Kabul
by Hattie Mitchell, Events Coordinator ARAP Scheme
“Wow! It’s just like Afghanistan!”
I’m sure you’ll be as surprised as I was to hear this comment about… Tintern, on the Welsh border! A day trip to this tiny village nestled in the Wye Valley brought back memories of home for many of the Afghan families that we work with, as they described to me the varied terrain, forest, rivers and mountains of their beloved nation. It drew to my consciousness how little I really knew about Afghanistan and its people groups; a land that has been on our news channels for as long as I can remember.
In September 2021, Bridges for Communities began working with Bristol City Council to support Afghan families who were arriving in Bristol following the fall of Kabul and the resettlement of people to the UK. We have had the privilege of working alongside and getting to know these families over the last year, running events to help them adjust to British culture, learn about the UK, and support their mental and emotional wellbeing through activities outside their temporary accommodation. Part of our role has been to collect offers of help from partner organisations and groups in the city who have wanted to offer a warm Bristolian welcome - thanks to these partners, the programme we've put on has included tickets to cricket and football matches, a trip to the zoo, English conversation clubs, Eid parties, quilting workshops and a trip to the beach to name but a few. We could not have achieved this year without our many dedicated volunteers either. So many Bristolians have been smiling, welcoming faces at events, created new opportunities in our city, helped navigate families onto buses and across the city, offered event spaces and facilities for activities, and visited homes as befrienders. Thank you to everyone who has played a part in this; we so appreciate you all.
One Afghan dad recently told us:
“Bridges for Communities were the eyes for our people when we first arrived; we were blind to understanding our lives in the UK, but you gave us vision and helped us see. You were our first friends here.”
The truth is, for our team and volunteers, these Afghan families have taught us so much too and have brought an abundance of joy and laughter in the process. We have grown in understanding one another, nurtured new friendships, picked up a few Pashto and Dari phrases, and observed how they relentlessly go above and beyond to show hospitality to others - even while being in very challenging and transient circumstances themselves. If you haven’t yet been to an Afghan Cooking event, may I suggest you make it a priority for the next year? You won’t regret it, as the guests at Bean Tree Café recently discovered!
For me, the icing on the cake is knowing that the impact of the work this year does not end here. Whether it’s through ongoing friendships, improved English and work opportunities for the families, building connection and trust between cultures or learning from our experience as we welcome more families in the coming year, we know that this endeavour makes an impression that changes our local and global communities for the better. And you never know where that influence may end up…
“I want to be Prime Minister of Afghanistan!” one girl told me the other day, with a beaming smile.
I hope she will be!
Photos: Cooking event at Bean Tree Cafe - used with permission
Further info: Bridges for Communities will be continuing to support Afghan families in the year ahead - as well as refugees and asylum seekers of all nationalities and backgrounds. Some of the Afghan families we work with are still stuck in temporary accommodation and struggling to move forwards with their lives as they wait for housing to become available. Some have been housed, in Bristol and elsewhere. Other Afghans who were eligible for resettlement are still in Afghanistan or neighbouring countries. Please check out the comprehensive report by the RAMP project, which we were able to contribute towards, and their recommendations to the UK government - Reports — rampproject.org