A family of eight that escaped Afghanistan with just the clothes on their back moved into their new Epping home on Friday.

Dozens of people held signs and cheered as the family arrived at their new home, a 300-year-old farmhouse, ending a seven-month whirlwind.

"Can you imagine all of a sudden within hours you've got to make the decision to uproot your whole life and go?," Wes Dillion of the Durham-based Four Rivers Church told Seacoast Current. "I'm amazed. They're doing incredible based on everything they've been through. I'm really excited for them to be here. Even though the language is a little bit of a barrier right now, the humor comes through quite a bit."

The family includes five children ranging from ages 2 to 9, a 17-year-old nephew, plus one on the way. Seacoast Current is not identifying the family in order to protect their safety. The Taliban as recently as this week is still actively looking for them.

Members of Joint Task Force Liberty at Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst in New Jersey
Members of Joint Task Force Liberty at Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst in New Jersey (Joint Base Dix-McGuire-Lakehurst)
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The Journey to The Center of the Universe Begins

Their harrowing journey began in August as the U.S. military pulled out of Afghanistan after 20 years, and the Taliban quickly moved in as the Afghan government collapsed.

"Sunday morning, this family was going about their day as usual. By noon, they realized they were going to have to leave as their lives were going to be in danger and had to flee to the airport. It was that sudden," Dillon said.

They made the first flight out of Kabul's airport on board a transport plane and flew to Qatar and then to a staging area in Brussels before ending up at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.  Over 10,000 Afghan refugees settled into a specially-built facility called "Liberty Village" that became a small temporary community with medical care, a dining hall, athletic and recreational facilities, and even a beauty parlor.

But it was only temporary, and permanent homes needed to be found for the refugees.

Afghan familiy handed the keys to their new home
Afghan familiy handed the keys to their new home (Wes Dillion, Four Rivers Church)
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Four Rivers Church Makes a Commitment

The Park Street Church in Boston had resettled six families by late December and was looking for partners in order to settle more, according to Dillion.  The Four Rivers Church responded that they were very interested.

"It's a two year commitment to be a 'wayfinder community' for these families. A wayfinder finds them a home, find them a job, find a way into the school, healthcare, everything it takes to get settled into a community," Dillon said.

The family visited New Hampshire in January and "fell in love" with Epping, according to Dillion. That put plans in motion to make it permanent as the family moved from New Jersey to transitional housing in western New Hampshire.

Soon, all the wayfinder goals were met as the children were enrolled in the Epping school district and a security position was found for the father. The 17-year-old nephew will also be working at an assisted living facility.

Inside an Afghan family's Epping home after renovations.
Inside an Afghan family's Epping home after renovations (Wes Dillion, Four Rivers Church)
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The Seacoast Lends A Hand...And More

The extensive remodeling needed to prepare the farmhouse for Friday's move-in is one example of the commitment made by the church and the community.

"For the last four weeks, it's been a massive effort on that with people working there everyday," Dillon said, "150 people from the community were involved in some way, whether it's swinging a hammer or painting or giving financially or donating furniture or giving backpacks.'

Donations and contributions from the Seacoast community include:

  • $40,000 donated towards the family's rent, buying a vehicle, and the purchase of household goods.
  • Seniors in the Occupational Therapy Department at UNH for their senior class project put together a guide in the family's native language, Urdu, of what to expect on the first day of school.
  • Womenade of Oyster River bought two beds.
  • All the kids' bunk beds were provided by Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP), whose mission is to provide beds for children so that no child sleeps on the floor.
  • Seacoast doctors are providing healthcare for the family.
  • Volunteers from Durham provided everything from transport to cleaning and remodeling the new home.
  • The Dover Adult Learning Center is providing English as a second language

"Every single organization has just been amazing to work with," Dillon said.

Kids bedroom at an Afghan family's new Epping home.
Kids bedroom at an Afghan family's new Epping home. (Wes Dillion, Four Rivers Church)
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Making It Work

Given the circumstances of the family's arrival in the United States, some have gone above and beyond to make things work.

The father is going to work at one of the area hospitals. An HR representative said that "I'll do what I need to do to make their documentation work. They have all the documents but not a resume. People in the school district, since they're learning the English language, we'll need what we need to get to get the kids enrolled instead of the online processes you usually go through," Dillon said.

The church's Wayfinder team has been helping prepare the kids for their first day of school, getting driver's licenses, medical care, and tracking down an owner's manual for their vehicle in Urdu.  It will be Dillon's wife Kasey who acts as the family's liaison.

"She owns the whole project. She's done an amazing job. She's a professor at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and the school encourages volunteerism, and she's been able to take entire days to do what she needs to do, " Dillon said.

Donations to help the family can be made at fourriversproject.churchcenter.com/giving/to/afghan-resettlement.

Welcome mat at an Afghan family's new Epping home
Welcome mat at an Afghan family's new Epping home (Wes Dillion, Four Rivers Church)
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Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH

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