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Positively the Heartland: Nebraska nonprofit prepares to welcome more than 700 Afghan refugees

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Posted at 11:52 AM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 15:20:57-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — A local partnership aims to greet Afghan refugees with a warm meal once they land in the Omaha area.

The Refugee Empowerment Center and American Muslim Institute are teaming up to welcome these families when they arrive in our area, which is expected to happen over the next year.

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Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have been uprooted from their homes since the U.S. withdrawal began in May. A large number are resettling in parts of the United States, some even here in Omaha.

Amanda Kohler, executive director of Refugee Empowerment Center says they are teaming up with American Muslim Institute to make sure refugees feel welcomed when they land.

"One of the very first things is the people's first impression of Omaha. You think about that after a long journey — that very first day, the second day, what do you think about your new community? Having a group of people that welcome you with a warm meal that maybe understand your faith, speak your language can just be a huge relief when you come to a new place," she said.

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Kohler says the partnership is so much more than just a meal — it's a meal that leads to opportunities.

"There is obviously the things that we do that are tactical: the housing and helping kids get enrolled in school and helping with healthcare, but then there is all of the small things, that are really big things, like sharing a large meal with people that want to welcome you into the community," she said.

Abdul Mackie, a board member with American Muslim Institute, says families resettling need to have some sense of belonging and a warm meal can do just that.

"It means that, one, they are not going to be alone. Two, coming from a mosque, it means ‘They care enough, they are here, they are welcoming us. We are not alone here, so we can practice our faith here.’ We can help them with these things,” said Mackie.

He says the conversations that spark from sitting around a table and talking to like-minded individuals helps with the transition process.

"Where to shop, where to eat, how to get from point A to point B, who is hiring, who is not hiring, where to live," Mackie said.

Over the next year, Nebraska is expected to see more than 700 Afghan refugees filter into the state and Kohler says it's going to take partnerships within the community to make all feel welcomed.

If you want to help, visit: refugeeempowerment.org. They've outlined volunteer opportunities on the site.

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Web Extra: Retired UNO dean and Afghanistan expert calls pullout from Afghanistan “tragic” and “embarrassing”

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