On a recent Friday morning, seven moms with toddlers in tow gathered in the sunny community room of Sacramento’s Food Bank and Family Services for their weekly one-hour Afghan Mom Support Group meeting.
The children were growing restless as the women sat among the rows of white plastic chairs listening through an interpreter to a presentation on the importance of childhood vaccinations by Gabriela Lopez-Valle, SFBFS’ Parent Education program manager.
Infants babbled over the voices of the presenters. Some tried to free themselves from their mothers’ arms. One girl, still clad in her furry white coat with pacifier firmly in place, stared at an adult standing nearby.
Several meandered through the rows of chairs. Ahmad Eltaf Rahimi, 4, and his brother Admad Anil, 2 1/2 , were part of the wandering crowd when suddenly staff member Kelly Siefkin pulled up a chair in the last row and coaxed them over to look at a book about fruit with words printed boldly in English and Farsi.
“Baaaa-nann-a,” Eltaf Rahimi said, pointing excitedly. “Grapes” he repeated when Siefkin said the word in English. “Mmmmmmmh,” Eltaf Rahimi said, repeatedly pointing his index finger to his tummy as pages turned. His little brother looked on.
It was also a great day for their mom, Lina Rahimi, 23. She was able to check out the program’s many offerings. She, her husband and children arrived in the U.S. from Afghanistan a year ago on a special immigrant visa, the type given to families of Afghans who risked their lives keeping U.S. service members safe during the war.
Rahimi she said she likes that she can earn credits for attending the support group and redeem them for children’s clothing. She is desperate for workbooks she can use to learn English at home
Lopez-Valle wants that too. She and other SFBFS officials are asking Book of Dreams readers to help purchase 60 Beginner English Learner workbooks and 60 learning tools called “English Made Easy Through Pictures.”
Also on the list are 60 Farsi-English dictionaries, and 90 Farsi/English children’s books. Lopez-Valle also needs funds for other necessities like youth thermometers and first aid kits, as well as the ability to acquire 96 hours of translator services.
Atefa Hakimi, 43, is the support group’s interpreter. A former newscaster for the “Good Morning Afghan” radio show, she came here six years ago and has taken all the English as a second language classes offered at a local community college.
She said lack of English speaking skills seriously holds them back. She encourages them to study at home.
“This puts the mothers and young children at a great disadvantage,” Lopez-Valle said. With help from the Book of Dreams, she said she can turn that disadvantage into opportunity for many homebound mothers who need to learn English.