His life seemed to resemble that of a typical young adult – spending his early 20’s pursuing a degree in teaching, landing his first job as an English teacher, getting married, and financially helping his family members.
Except the year was 2013, and the place was war-torn Afghanistan.
Despite already having a job secured, Abdul Saboor, an Afghani national, made a daring, and ultimately life-changing, decision to utilize his English skills in a new way: serving as an interpreter for the United States military and the Afghani military.
The decision did not come without extreme consequences.
“If militants found out that I was working with the United States military, they would kill me right away,” Saboor explained. “I had to keep my job a secret, even from close friends.”
Despite working secretively, Saboor began finding letters that had been slid under the door of his home – letters promising certain death if he were to continue associating with joint U.S. and Afghani operations.
As tensions rose and risk increased, Saboor was granted an SIV (Special Immigration Visa) which allowed him and his wife to seek refuge in the United States. These visas are granted to those who are experiencing ongoing threats as a consequence of providing valuable service to the United States government.
“It took a year and a half for the visas to process,” explained Saboor, “but we ended up in the Philadelphia airport. I had nothing except a backpack with me.”
He and his wife met with Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement staff at the airport.
“They were there for us through everything. They helped with finding us a home, setting up doctors appointments, and the first three months of rent.”
But, according to his case managers, Saboor did not miss a beat in starting his new life. He immediately found a job, working day and night, until he could afford a used car. After working and saving for several years, receiving a promotion to a managerial position, he eagerly pursued a nursing degree at Camden County College, currently paying the tuition himself.
The full-time employee and full-time student explained his passion for nursing.
“I feel like I have a gift when it comes to connecting with people. And I think as a nurse, I would have an opportunity to use that gift. I want to be able to help as many people get better as possible.”
“[Saboor] came here with absolutely nothing. But he was determined from the start. And he very quickly, and eagerly, built a whole new life for himself and his wife. And he’s shown compassion and gratitude every step of the way,” explained Daniel Davis, an AmeriCorps volunteer who works for the refugee resettlement program. “He’s already served his country faithfully, and already succeeded in so many ways. I have no doubt that he will be a wonderful nurse.”
Another staff member remarked with a smile, “If I ever end up in the hospital, I’d want him to be my nurse.”
In his already-limited spare time, the 29-year-old volunteers to assist Catholic Charities with a wide variety of tasks – whether it be helping with translations, accompanying clients to doctors’ appointments, or offering rides to clients who need assistance with transportation.
Abdul Saboor is just one of around 100 refugees that Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden resettles annually. He shared his story with Catholic Charities during National Migration Week – a week that, as Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), described as, “a time of prayer and reflection on our history as a migrant Church and nation. In these five decades, the face of the immigrant may have changed – European, Asian, South American, and elsewhere — but their faces reveal a common desire to secure the great blessings of American opportunity.”
Saboor reflected on the opportunities that this country brought him.
“I’m so thankful to be in this community and this country where I can work and study and live in safety and without fear,” Saboor added with confidence. “In my mind, there have been no major challenges so far since I’ve been here. I’m sure there will be at some point, but when they arrive, I’ll be ready.”
National Migration Week provides an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking. As noted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church supports the human rights of all people and offers them pastoral care, education, and social services, no matter what the circumstances of entry into this country, and it works for the respect of the human dignity of all, especially those who find themselves in desperate circumstances. As Catholics, we are called to welcome these newcomers with heartfelt hospitality, openness, and eagerness both to help and to learn from our brothers and sisters of whatever religion, ethnicity, or background.