Myanmar, Afghanistan Families Share Their Stories of Emigration to the Mountain State

By Colleen Rowan and Martina Hart
Two families from two different parts of the world now call the Mountain State home, and are grateful to Catholic Charities West Virginia (CCWVa) and the people in their communities for helping them and welcoming them.
With assistance from CCWVa, Pa Tin, 42, his wife Biak Hlei Iang, 34, and their children 8-year-old Rebecca Rem Chin Par and Van Dawt Sung, who is almost 3, are happily living in Ranson in the Eastern Panhandle. The family is from Myanmar, and came to Ranson last year. CCWVa also helped Omid Noorzei, 30, his wife Wahida Bakhtari, 29, and their 4-year-old daughter Sana when they moved to Charleston from Afghanistan in 2015.
Pa Tin and his family are Catholic and are becoming members of St. James Parish in Charles Town. They came to the United States hoping to find a better life. The family enjoys attending Mass, reading the Bible, taking walks together, playing and gardening. Pa Tin said they are a friendly and humble family who likes to meet new people. His family, he said, likes the Ranson community because people are friendly, especially the Catholic community that has helped them.
Yet it was quite a transition to leave their home and emigrate to a new country. The family has to adapt to a new environment, food and language, Pa Tin said. “However, people here are very friendly and helpful,” he said.
When the family arrived in the U.S., they were met by Brittany Young, Immigration & Refugee case manager for CCWVa’s Eastern Panhandle Immigration & Rural Outreach Office. “They rented a house for us and it was filled with all the necessities,” Pa Tin said. “We thank God and the people who help us abundantly to settle here peacefully. We are very blessed to be cared (for) by the Catholic Charities, and may God richly continue blessing them.”
The people at St. James have also given the family a warm welcome. “They are super helpful, and we really appreciated them,” Pa Tin said. “They got me and my wife a job and helped our daughter Rebecca enroll (at) St. Joseph Catholic School in Martinsburg and paid for the tuition fee. St. James Church members are very friendly. They do transportation for our family to work, school and church. During Christmas season, we also received lots of gifts from the church members and we are very thankful.”
Pa Tin said that he and his family are very happy to be in West Virginia and are grateful to all who have helped them along the way.
“Above all, we are very thankful to God for giving us this wonderful opportunity to adjust (to) a new culture, and meeting great people,” Pa Tin said. “We like to say thank you to everyone who welcomed us to the United States. We also like to thank the government for taking refugees and giving us a chance to have a better life. We would like to give our gratitude to the Catholic Charities and St. James Church members. We anticipate to become a member of St. James Church soon.”
The Noorzei family of Charleston waited three years for their visas to emigrate from Afghanistan. “It was very dangerous for me because I worked for a couple of years for the United States government, and some unknown group is targeting the people who work for the company which is supported by the United States,” Omid said. “I left my car, my house, everything, but at least I saved my life, and I’m very happy for that.”
Omid has a bachelor’s degree in business and had taken English courses before and during college. From 2008 to 2011, he served as field monitor with USAID (United States Agency for International Development), working on agricultural development in Afghanistan. He then became a team leader for another agency in Kabul, supported by the U.S. State Department, working on a project to establish a prisoner classification database for the Afghani corrections system. Wahida is originally from Mazar-i Sharif. Both are of the Bahá’í faith, a monotheistic religion which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. Being members of a religious minority in Afghanistan posed another challenge for the young couple. After they got married, they settled in Kabul where it was difficult for Wahida to continue her studies to become a teacher, mainly because she could not attend classes without being accompanied by her husband or another male family member.
“A lot of people escape because of the bad situation,” Omid said. “It’s become worse in the last two or three years. People escape any way they find a way, especially the people who work for the Germans, for the Italians, for the Canadians, for the United States.” Upon receiving their visas, Omid contacted the International Organization for Migration (IOM) informing them of their plans to come to Charleston where his sister had been residing already for a few years. IOM gave him a contact number for CCWVa and its Office of Migration & Refugee Services. “They helped us a lot,” he recalls. “When we came here we didn’t know what to do. We were not familiar with the city.” CCWVa took them to local hospitals to receive necessary vaccinations and also helped them obtain health insurance through DHHR. While Omid’s sister was instrumental in finding an apartment to rent, Catholic Charities’ “Welcome Money” helped to furnish it.
Soon after arriving in the U.S., the family also received permanent legal residency status (“green card”), allowing them to live and work here on a permanent basis. “When I received my social security card, I started applying for jobs,” Omid says. “After a lot of difficulties, I got a job at Embassy Suites Hotel as a banquet worker.” He is also a full-time student at Bridge Valley Community College where he is majoring in network engineering and cyber security. “Once I complete my degree, I can obtain a job that will allow me to support my family and become a contributing member of this country,” he said. Wahida also works at the hotel, but cut down her hours to take care of 4-year-old Sana. The family is expecting their second child in July. Wahida hopes to be able to take English classes soon.