Basira Haidari, a fearless Afghan refugee, had her family shattered and her heart broken last winter after she had declared war on domestic abuse.
Child Protective Services had taken her two small children way because she didn’t know how to file an temporary restraining order against her husband, Omid, who had been arrested for slapping her in a fight over money.
On Saturday morning November 18, she was on the front lines at the Yolo County Childrens’ Alliance Community Giveaway Day. She joined several staff members and an army of volunteers from River CIty High School helping 500 families. Many were refugees who began lining up at 4 a.m. at Westfield Village Elementary School for Thanksgiving meals, groceries, clothes, blankets and toys.
Haidari, 23, knows firsthand what it’s like to survive with two small kids in a new country where laws and bureaucracy don’t make sense and can cost you health care benefits, food stamps and even your children.
“I was so scared for days,” Haidari said. “Now I’m the advocate for others – this makes me so strong. I tell my people, ‘Share your goodness, share your knowledge, share your happiness.’ ”
Since she came to Sacramento, Haidari – one of the few Afghan women here who knew English – championed women’s rights, warning men in her Arden Arcade apartment to stop hitting their wives or face jail. But like many immigrants, she didn’t know the system and was forced to take parenting classes and go to court to finally get back daughter Raheel, 3 1/2, and son Subhan, 1.
But Haidari, 23, rallied. She got out of her ex-husband’s apartment complex and moved to a new complex in West Sacramento. It has become a sanctuary for some of the new wave of Afghan refugees who arrived in Sacramento by the thousands on Special Immigrant Visas awarded to those who served as translators, drivers and engineers with U.S. troops in the war on terror.
Reinventing herself as “Moon Brave,” her social media moniker reflecting Basira’s new life, last August she was hired as a family resources aid for the Yolo County Children’s Alliance’s West Sacramento Family Resource Center, where she helps new refugees navigate the complicated system that will allow them to build new lives here. It can be reached at 530-902-6350.
“We help all the clients get all their benefits,” Haidari said proudly. “I know how to do everything now, food stamps, welfare, Medical,. PG&E, daycare, English classes, counseling, the courts.”
She works Monday through Friday, starting at 8 a.m. in the Family Resource Center, 637 Todhunter Ave., No. 218, serving as a case manager for a steady stream of refugees. Then, at 11 a.m. she goes to the agency’s new satellite office at Haidari’s low-income apartment complex, which has become home to about 70 Afghan families with multiple children fleeing substandard housing in Sacramento.
She meets two Afghan sisters struggling to get a relative who served with U.S. forces out of Afghanistan before he’s killed by the Taliban. She’s helped other moms with small kids get on computers, look for apartments and get the help they, too, need to start over.
“Basira’s really been our bridge,” said Yolo County Children’s Alliance executive director Katie Villegas. “Without her, we couldn’t reach these families because the women were afraid to even take a flier without their husbands’ permission.”
Haidari’s changed all that, said Health Programs Manager Jeneba Lahai, herself a refugee from Sierra Leone.
“When we saw there was the need for a Farsi speaker, my staff called me right away, they said ‘You need to meet this young lady, she’s trying to rebuild her life, she’s already doing a lot of work to help the clients on her own.’ ”
Lahai said she admires Haidari’s courage to stand up for women’s rights.
“I was impressed with her willingness to take on the mantle of being a black sheep in her community if that would benefit our clients. She said, ‘I don’t care what people say about me. I want to be able to help other women and provide services to people who need them the most.’ ”
When one desperate Afghan mom on the verge of homelessness walked in to the agency, “She needed everything and Basira helped her get housing, electricity, improve her hygiene, how to discipline her kids, learn English and deal with her trauma,” Lahai said. “Some people are afraid to work with schools and agencies, but the women will tell Basira, ‘the school is saying my child is behaving this way, they keep calling, I don’t want a reputation of having a problem child.”
So the agency is training Haidari to help run a parenting class along with an English class from 5 to 9 p.m. at the complex. “We asked if it would be possible for someone else to watch your kids,” Lahai said, “and after they met Basira they said no, we stay with our kids all day, in America, husbands have to watch the kids!’ ”
Yolo County Children’s Alliance Family Resource Center, 916-572-0560