Over the course of 20 years, Vickee Moy, 47, has worked as an English-as-a-second language instructor at Sacramento City College. When a wave of immigrants from Afghanistan began gracing her classroom this year, she felt a personal connection.
“They have opened up their hearts and shared stories of their previous lives and their lives today in the U.S. They have taught me so much more – about perseverance, strength, hope and humanity,” she said.
The conversations reminded her of stories her parents would tell as a child about their challenges as Chinese immigrants. “After looking into my students’ eyes, I walked away changed and knew I had to do something.”
They recounted the struggles of war, the risks they took with their lives to assist American forces defending freedom in Afghanistan. Many said they would not be alive if they had stayed. It is common to find adjusting here difficult.
At first, she didn’t think there was much she could do. But then it hit her.
“I might not be able to change what they have been through, but I can make a difference for their children at this new starting point in their lives.” So on International Refugee Day last June, she founded a 501-C3 nonprofit organization – “Starting Point for Refugee Children.”
Starting Point is off and running. It has donated 90 school backpacks, uniforms and books, and more than 700 juvenile-themed blankets. Next up is a project to buy shoes for 300 refugee children. Because the need is far greater than the young group’s limited resources, she is asking Book of Dreams readers to help purchase the footwear. And children need a lot of shoes during their young years.
An indispensable partner in this effort is Shahpoor Benawa, 28, a former Afghan solider who began taking language classes in January. Benawa identifies with the children’s struggles. He came from a small village where he and his brother had to help the family by working from age 6 to help pay the family’s bills.
“In my country I liked to help people,” said Benawa, who is studying to become a vocational nurse. He helps identify places where Starting Point can hold events, and he helps staff them.
“I feel good to do this. And when I see the children around (afterward) they wave at me and call me uncle – Uncle Shahp.”