This is a love story with many facets.
Not romantic love as in “Love Story” the movie, but rather the love of one neighbor for another. It’s a story of a group of people who are not worried about the political causes of the crisis they have waded into or whether their assistance helps one American political party or ideology more than another.
In our rancorous world, when the focus is too often on divisiveness rather than our common humanity, this story of mostly Christians and Jews helping refugees who are mostly Muslim is both a balm for the soul and an example for us all to emulate.
Our page 1 story in this week’s Alexandria Times, “A life-saving RAFT,” tells how a couple of Northern Virginia residents realized there would be a tremendous need for support for the thousands of Afghan refugees who were fleeing the country after the United States pulled out our troops in August 2021. They decided to help. Those residents, Natalie Perdue and Dan Altman, tapped into their networks of friends, religious organizations and existing service organizations to create Resettling Afghan Families Together, or NoVA RAFT.
Those fleeing as the Taliban has taken control in Afghanistan often have large families and are able to bring along few possessions. They arrive here most immediately desperate for food and shelter but are also in need of help with things like signing up for English language courses, applying for drivers’ licenses, registering for school and searching for jobs.
NoVA RAFT has helped resettle almost 90 families in less than six months, taking in and redistributing donations of furniture, clothing, rugs, books, gift cards and much more. Volunteer crews worked on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day setting up apartments to help get families out of the often sub-par conditions in initial refugee holding centers.
While the organizers and many of the volunteers in NoVa RAFT are Springfield- and Burke-based, Afghan families are being resettled all over Northern Virginia, including in the City of Alexandria. Residents of our city have a well-earned reputation for generosity toward people in need, and the plight of these Afghan refugees resettling in our midst presents another opportunity.
To get a better sense of their efforts to date and to see ways in which you, your neighborhood, your faith group or nonprofit can help, check out the NoVa RAFT group on Facebook or visit novaraft. org. While not all of us can lift a dresser, virtually everyone can pass along gently used clothing or books, donate those still-in-decentshape old dining room chairs the kids are never going to want or send a $25 grocery store gift card.
We have been consumed with a cacophony of bad news these past two years, primarily from COVID-19 and the disruptions that have followed in its wake, but also from political anger. The efforts of Perdue, Altman and the host of volunteers who are assisting them are notes of grace amid the din.
Here’s to a 2022 in which the efforts of all of us help the notes of harmony drown out the dissonance.