Refugee Integration in Virginia Project

Refugee Integration in Virginia is a project supported by Virginia Humanities designed to inspire through storytelling to capture refugees and community members’ experiences in building community together and showcase the two-way process of integration. The exercise is believed to offer a highlight into the wider global migration perspective, the process of refugee admissions program, the concept of integration, and the role of community engagement from the people who are directly involved.

ECDC was established in Arlington, Virginia, in 1983 and believes that Virginia is the place to start the process of capturing and reflecting on its resettlement efforts.  Since its start ECDC has resettled 66,000 individuals from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Pakistan to communities in Virginia. Following the crisis in Afghanistan in 2021, ECDC has managed to resettle 7,227 Afghan parolees along with its 22 Affiliates spread nationally. In particular, it resettled 459 Afghan parolees in Virginia.

For this project, to reflect on their experiences, ten participants were interviewed, five from the refugee community that have settled in Virginia from 2014 – 2022, and five community members that are/were extensively engaged to welcome and provide support to newcomers during their resettlement period.  The interviews were geared towards creating understanding on what successful integration looks like, how refugees and community members can best partner, building empathy for the complexity of integration by listening to personal stories, and identifying different challenges and opportunities during refugee integration.

Lisa McQuail

Lisa McQuail lives in Luray, Virginia, and works from home as a federal Proposal Manager on health-related projects for a large Native American tribe. She spent many years studying Native American and Southeast Asian anthropology and prehistoric archeology.

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Amy Hjerstedt

Amy Hjerstedt has called Arlington, VA her home since July 2021. Prior to moving to Virginia, she lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Sault Sainte Marie. Her spouse is active duty in the military, and she has two sons.

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Kenneth Speicher

Kenn Speicher is a co-founder of NOVA Friends of Refugees, an all-volunteer grassroots network of more than 1,000 members formed in 2016 to assist and advocate for refugees.

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Todd Endo

Todd Endo is one of the Columbia Heights West planning group that created the first Arlington Mill Community Center out of an old, closed Safeway in the late 1990s on the site where the current Arlington Mill Community Center stands.

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Wendy Chan

Wendy Chan is the co-founder of One Journey, a movement dedicated to shifting the narrative of refugees and connecting them to host communities through storytelling, food, music, dance, and sport.

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Engeela Sharifi

Engeela Sharifi arrived from Afghanistan in February 2019, and lives in Virginia. Engeela is a mother of four girls and a son. She graduated from the Said Jamluddin teachers training, English department, in Afghanistan. She was working as an English teacher in the Women Vocational High School, in Kabul city, for five years.

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Florence Ahmedi

Florence Ahmedi arrived in the U.S on August 21, 2021 after the crisis in Afghanistan. Florence has a Master’s degree in literature and Persian languages. She was a lecturer at the Maiwand University in Kabul, Afghanistan. She Now is an intern at ECDC and also works at BeThrifty store in Northern Virginia. Her wish is to continue her education and obtain her Ph.D.

Farida Atmar

Farida Atmar is from Afghanistan. She arrived in the U.S on September 2nd 2022 after the crisis and fall of Kabul. Farida has a BA in Education, and was teaching 6 and 5 grade students Pashto Grammar at a local public school, Bibimahro, in Afghanistan. Today Farida is an assistant teacher in a VINCI School, North Virginia. She aspires to continue her education to a Masters level.

Reza Yawari

Reza Yawari: Moved to the U.S. in 2014 through a special immigrant visa for the Afghans that worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan. Since then, Virginia has been home for him, his wife Sarah and their son nine years old Amir. In 2020, Reza, as a proud, American and Virginian, participated for the first time in a U.S. presidential and state wide election.

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Freshta Atmar

Freshta Atmar has a BA in Business Administration from a university in Afghanistan. She arrived into the US in September 2021 after the Afghanistan crisis as an Afghan Parole. Freshat was also working for a local Azizi Bank in Afghanistan. Now she is working for McDonald's in North Virginia. In the near future, she wishes to further her education in Business Administration.