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Churches help Afghan newcomers get settled in

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Las Cruces and Doña Ana County businesses looking to hire new employees might want to consider newcomers from Afghanistan who have resettled here.

About 200 Afghans – men and women, boys and girls, individuals and families with young children – arrived in Las Cruces earlier this year and both El Calvario United Methodist Church and Peace Lutheran Church are helping them get established, including finding jobs.

Some of the newcomers speak English, said El Calvario Outreach Coordinator Clair Campos. Those who don’t “are eager to learn English, get the ball rolling and start their lives here,” she said.

Most are native Pashto and Dari speakers, Campos said, and many are taking English as a Second Language classes at Doña Ana Community College. El Calvario is working with The Hub bicycle shop to provide bicycles to the newcomers to help them get to and from DACC and all the other places they need and want to go in town.

“It’s very important that they have that mode of transportation,” Campos said.

Many of the newcomers have valuable skills, Campos said. Some were high-ranking military officers in Afghanistan. Others are pilots and mechanics. El Calvario is helping them find day-labor opportunities, along with part-time and full-time employment.

The church is also helping newcomers with immigration paperwork, she said. And, because they come from a war-torn country, some also benefit from El Calvario’s counseling services.

El Calvario holds weekly meetings for Afghan women to help them acclimate to their new homes, care for their children and find jobs, she said.

The church welcomes donations for the newcomers, including clothing (socks and underwear are the biggest needs), furniture, toys and other items. Vehicle donations are also welcome. You can make monetary donations at resiliencylc.org to assist the Afghan community with paying rent, she said.

El Calvario also needs donations for asylum seekers from all over the world who make brief stopovers in Las Cruces on their way to new homes across the United States, Campos said.

During a single week in late March, for example, the church helped newcomers from Portugal, Turkey, Venezuela and Ecuador on their way to new homes in other states. It welcomed 50 asylum seekers on a single day in April. Most stay in Las Cruces for one to three nights, Campos said, and are provided with food, clothing and other necessities during their short stays, along with transportation to a bus station or airport.

For asylum seekers, donations of shoes, diapers, toys and stuffed animals, backpacks and duffel bags would be especially welcome, Campos said. Visit www.facebook.com/elcalvarioumc to see what other items are needed.

Many asylum seekers arrive in Las Cruces from a detention facility, she said. They often are wearing only flipflops, pants and tee shirts and are tired and hungry.

“They literally come here with nothing,” Campos said.

One of the most rewarding parts of her job is seeing them emerge after a shower, a meal and a change of clothing.

El Calvario also welcomes volunteers, she said. The small staff can use help in the kitchen, sorting clothing and other donations and doing other chores. Drivers are also needed.

El Calvario, 300 N. Campo St., hosts a monthly Agape Mercado, Campos said. The one held March 16 at the church included an Afghan dinner, free clothing and household items and a spring-themed activity for children. The mercados are open to the community.

El Calvario also hosted a Naw-roz (Afghanistan new year’s) celebration at Klein Park in March. It included the cooking and serving of traditional Afghan dishes, music, dancing, games and socializing, Campos said.

The event and others coming up are open to everyone, she said, as Afghans and their new friends and neighbors learn from each other and share their cultures, she said, and the newcomers become part of the El Calvario family and the Las Cruces community.

For more information, call 575-323-1874 and email clair@elcalvarioumc.org.