St. Louis-based immigrant services nonprofit Bilingual International Assistant Services has been awarded a $1.8 million dollar competitive federal grant (HHS-2022-ACF-ORR-90ZZ0003) to provide holistic case management and counseling services to evacuees from Afghanistan. The Services to Afghan Survivors Impacted by Combat (SASIC) program will run for three years at 24 sites nationwide. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who will be overseeing program implementation, “the program is designed to help eligible Afghans overcome severe, pervasive, and long-lasting combat-related trauma and facilitate their achievement of sustained physical, social, emotional, and economic goals and well-being.” The effort to submit this grant was made possible in part by support from Missouri Foundation for Health.
Bilingual International will build out an Afghan-led and –staffed team of multilingual family case workers to work directly with Afghans adjusting to life in the St. Louis region. The team will be joined by several culturally competent mental health therapists working specifically through a whole-family lens. The project will build off the experience of the long-running St. Louis Partnership for Survivors of Torture and War Trauma, which has been housed at Bilingual International since 2016 and has been supported locally as an initiative of the St. Louis Mental Health Board (MHB) and recently by the St. Louis Welcome Fund. Several experienced, Dari- and Pashto-speaking case workers are already on staff, and the agency has an existing caseload of Afghan evacuees with whom they are already working.
St. Louis has welcomed over 600 evacuees from Afghanistan since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, with several hundred additional individuals waiting abroad in third countries for final clearance to enter. The challenge of leaving everything behind – friends, family members, careers, traditions, country – and starting over in the United States is immense, even for families with some experience working alongside Coalition Forces in Afghanistan. Many families have immediate family members, some in hiding, who were unable to be evacuated and remain in the country under Taliban rule as the situation there deteriorates. This pressure of family separation intersects with the effects of combat-related trauma experienced disproportionately by this population. The project takes into account that such trauma histories impact the entire family unit, and project services – especially the counseling component – target work with the entire household or family. One of the project’s overarching goals is to help the Afghan community in St. Louis overcome barriers to integrating and thriving in their new environment. As such, this project understands the supportive services it will provide as part of a larger effort to make the region an even more attractive destination for resettlement.
The agency plans to lean on its existing mental health, legal, social service, and language access resources, as well as working directly with the region’s expansive network of immigrant and refugee services providers, to accomplish project goals. The SASIC program at Bilingual International will function in a supportive service role to the work being done by the region’s refugee resettlement catalyst, the International Institute of St. Louis, and provide for continuing clinical assistance for Afghan evacuees beyond their initial resettlement period. Project activities will seek to incorporate existing structures and activities in the region, including the newly opened Afghan Community Center and various volunteer-driven and faith-based initiatives. The program will also partner directly with two area nonprofits that have been instrumental in working with new Afghan families over the past 1.5 years – Welcome Neighbor STL/START (WNSTL/START) and the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis (IFGSTL) – to provide community-level supports and input to the project. The project will also establish clinical and Afghan Community advisory boards to help structure and guide project services.
WNSTL/START began in the fall of 2016 and has grown to helping more than 300 refugees from 11 countries. WNSTL currently has over 3000 local stakeholders (volunteers and advocates) that assist directly with refugee needs not covered by case management. Since August 2021, the agency has provided critical resettlement support by assigning family partner volunteers to incoming evacuee families.
IFGSTL is a non-profit organization established in 1974 that operates two mosques in the St. Louis Area. They also operate a House of Goods for the needy, a funeral home, a full-time accredited K-12 school, and community health clinics. With their deep community reach, Manchester-based IFGSTL also offers congregational prayers, educational programs, workshops, burials, and social events. They provide direct support to refugees – regardless of faith or country of origin – in line with the charitable obligation of Islam.