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Resettled Afghans Find New Lives and New Schools in Philadelphia

Feb 10, 2022

Blog Post

Dan Friedman

Have a drink before school

Sakina Mosakhil offers her son, Ali, a beverage as he prepares for his first day of school since emigrating from Afghanistan. He will enter Samuel Fels High School in Northeast Philadelphia as a 10th grader.

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

A family scene

Sakina and Esmatullah Mosakhil send their son, Ali Wahaj, 15, to his first day of high school in Philadelphia.

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

HIAS Pennsylvania helps Afghan American to find bus to high school

Michelle Ferguson (R) of HIAS Pennsylvania shows Ali Wahaj Mosakhil and his father, Esmatullah, the bus route he will take to Samuel Fels High School in Northeast Philadelphia.

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

Samuel Fels High School in Northeast Philadelphia

Michelle Ferguson of HIAS Pennsylvania walks Ali Wahaj Mosakhil to his first day of school at Samuel Fels High School in Northeast Philadelphia.

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

First day at American high school

Ali Wahaj Mosakhil waits in line with other students to enter Samuel Fels High School. Ali, 15, and his family emigrated from Afghanistan and are resettling in Philadelphia.

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

Ali Wahaj Mosakhil at his new high school.

Ali Wahaj Mosakhil, 15, arrives at Samuel Fels High School for his first day of school since emigrating from Afghanistan.

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

The first day of high school is always hard. It’s doubly difficult if you are not fluent in the language and barely know where you live.

That was where 15-year-old Ali Wahaj Mosakhil found himself in early December, trying to navigate from his new home in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Olney to Samuel Fels High School in Northeast Philadelphia.

Fortunately he had HIAS Pennsylvania, in the person of Michelle Ferguson, to help him get to school and back. As high school and post-secondary lead instructor on the Resettlement Team she reassured Ali Wahaj and his father Esmatullah that she would get him safely home.

Local Philadelphia radio station WHYY tells the story of how the Mosakhil family arrived in Philadelphia via military bases and temporary accommodation to arrive in Philadelphia under the care of HIAS Pennsylvania. Ali Wahaj is among the many new Afghan Americans in the Philadelphia area who are of school-age — up to one-third of the 650 recent arrivals.

They joined the Afghan community in the area but, says Valeri Harteg, the refugee education program manager at HIAS Pennsylvania, “It’s tough.” There’s a dearth of affordable housing, a resettlement sector in the process of rebuilding after the Trump presidency and only 90 days of support.
“Some families will have relatives and friends be resettled in other countries that have longer periods of resettlement … and the U.S. is not like that. It’s really fast. Really short.”

Listen to the story at WHYY.