COLUMBIA - As Afghan refugees make their way to mid-Missouri, two nonprofits are focusing on making their adjustment to the state as smooth as possible.
Right from when they land in the United States, refugees start the process of moving home.
Representatives from resettlement agency Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri pick up refugees from the airport. They then supply them with new clothes, hygiene items, food and begin the process of applying for houses. They also help enroll any children in school and help them receive any eligible benefits.
After Catholic Charities helps with basic needs, City of Refuge in Columbia takes over with helping refugees feel like they have a home, friends and are economically comfortable.
Fostering friendships and building community are an important part of combating refugee mental health obstacles.
"We are very aware of the behavioral health, the potential behavioral health needs of the Afghan evacuee population," Samantha Moog, director of resettlement for Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri, said. "I think that culturally responsive and appropriate, you know, ways to identify and address mental health concerns is really critical."
Many refugees had to face emotionally difficult and draining experiences in their home country. Leaving their homes meant there could be issues with PTSD and trauma, among other disorders. But addressing the mental health of refugees is not always the same as they would be addressed for those in the U.S.
"So that's really important to be aware of that the types of ways to address mental health are that they need to be culturally responsive," Moog said. "Like different ways to address mental health concerns look differently, depending on what is culturally valid way of addressing those types of concerns."
Part of addressing concerns, Moog said, starts by first addressing safety. So getting all the basic needs met that a refugee could need.
City of Refuge steps in to help with the next steps of making sure refugees feel connected to other people in their community.
"It's quite a challenge to get settled in," Barry Stoll, director of refugee care, said. "Then from there, as a community, we continue to support them, they need help ongoing for a long time."
A large part of helping refugees adapt is learning English. City of Refuge's Leah Glenn helps arrange an English class two days a week and coordinates English "buddies" to help refugees make friends.
"You absolutely need a concept of the language in order to survive here, and not only survive but thrive," Glenn said. "And a lot of our refugees want to make friends so they're hungry to learn and to make connections and to learn about American life. And so the more English that they learn, the more friendships they can make and be able to adjust to their new life here."
Refugees can apply for a private in-home English tutor after they get comfortable in City of Refuge. Bella Parker, a refugee resources intern at City of Refuge, started the year long buddy program.
Part of the program means that Parker and her buddy switch off with inviting each other into their homes and building a friendship.
"No matter who you're interacting with, you know that it's a good relationship, and you're forming connections, and you're helping each other become better," Parker said. "And I feel like there's something really beautiful."
For ways to donate to City of Refuge or provide housing for a refugee, there is information on their website.