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With Open Arms

The Treasure Valley has come together responding to the crisis around the world and welcoming people with open arms

Article by Chelsea Chambers

Photography by Idaho Office for Refugees and Wahida Ivey

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

On a smoky summer evening in mid-September, I sat on a couch scrawling notes as quickly as I could while Wahida Ivey shared her stories. She spoke of adversity and overcoming, of challenge after challenge; but mostly she shared her dedication to supporting Idaho’s refugee system. 

“I just rolled up my sleeves and got to work,” Wahida said with a determined smile on her face. The concept of working hard and getting things done repeated itself throughout our time together and it became clear from the start that Wahida was built with a seemingly endless capacity to help others. This woman stands less than five feet tall yet has more love and commitment than anyone I’ve ever met.

“My whole life I’ve always been dedicated to volunteering. I feel a responsibility to the people and my community. This gives me so much more than a paycheck ever could.” 

Wahida is a devoted mother of two alongside her husband of more than thirty years. She served in the U.S. Military as a Linguist and Cultural Advisor and has spent time working for local hospitals and the Boise Police Department. All the while, committing every spare minute to Idaho’s refugee population. 

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, Wahida found herself fighting for her life to return to her home in America. An Idaho resident for more than fifteen years and a United States citizen for nearly forty, she anticipated it would be a quick trip to visit her family and back. Unfortunately, no one could have predicted the fervor with which the Taliban would take over the country and what should have been an easy flight home turned into many hungry days waiting in endless lines, watching the chaos that surrounded.

But as with all challenges presented to her, Wahida took this experience and plunged herself further into volunteerism. As Idaho opened its arms to accept Afghan refugees, it became immediately apparent that community support would be important in helping new arrivals find success. Idaho’s three refugee resettlement agencies experienced funding and staff cuts in recent years because federal policies and the pandemic severely limited the number of refugees coming to the U.S. As resettlement agencies have built back staffing and structures to welcome new arrivals, support from community members like Wahida and many others who have stepped up to help has been vital. The Treasure Valley has come together over the past year to respond to the crisis in Afghanistan and welcome people with open arms. 

“I do everything I can,” Wahida said, “From fixing meals and shopping to taking them to their doctor visits, translating, setting up clothing drives, organizing events and helping to keep the kids busy with trips to the park or Zoo.” For many refugees, Wahida is their go-to person for nearly everything—including late-night phone calls and being a listening ear. She is a support system and lifeline for dozens of people at any given time.

Wahida has volunteered with local organizations including the Idaho Office for Refugees (IOR), a nonprofit that oversees Idaho’s refugee resettlement program through agreements with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement and local resettlement agencies.

IOR honors its mission to ‘ease the transition for those seeking refuge in the United States by providing education, connection, and space for growth.’ They offer pathways to self-sufficiency and connect people with English learning courses, employment services, community events, and so much more.

“Idaho has a legacy that stretches back decades of being a light of hope for people who have been forced to leave their home countries,” said Holly Beech, Communications Manager for IOR. “Our community sees the value in welcoming people and helping them rebuild their lives. It’s what we would want others to do for us if we were in their shoes. Refugee resettlement enriches our state through meaningful relationships, cultural richness, and economic contributions.”

If you would like to learn more about the Idaho Office for Refugees or how you can help, visit them online at IdahoRefugees.org. There are many ways to get involved, including volunteering your time, sponsoring a refugee family, or by simply spreading Idaho’s community spirit. 

“As a refugee and an Idahoan, I just want to say that we haven’t given up,” Wahida said “I am so grateful for the people in this community, the volunteerism is truly amazing. They have really come together to help and have given Idaho refugees a warm welcome.”

Wahida’s story reminds us to look outside ourselves and accept others with open arms. You truly never know what someone has gone through to get here, but there is always room to be a force for good and positive change in this world.

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