For Aqela Faizy, fleeing Afghanistan for Northwest Arkansas last year meant avoiding the Taliban, pushing through the chaos at the Kabul airport and feelings of depression and profound loss, not to mention the huge cultural adjustment that followed. But it also meant a chance for her to seek a master’s degree and someday her own clothing business, and for her son to be nervous about going into kindergarten and excited for Halloween.
She and her sister-in-law Basira Faizy credited the staff and volunteers at Canopy NWA, a Fayetteville nonprofit refugee resettlement agency that has helped more than 130 Afghans make a new home here over the past year. Since late 2016, Canopy has provided refugees fleeing persecution around the world with housing, transportation to essential appointments, social work and other assistance.
“I want to be like them,” Aqela said of Canopy’s staff and volunteers, adding she hopes to help her people back in Afghanistan as well, especially girls and women. “It’s a lot, but I have the energy and intention.”
The two women spoke at the Arkansas Public Theatre stage in Rogers after a mid-October screening of “Gutsy,” an Apple TV+ docuseries that featured Canopy and Faizy’s family in one episode. The series is hosted by former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, and highlights “some of the world’s boldest and bravest women,” according to the streaming site.
(The Arkansas-centric episode, “Gutsy Women Take Leaps,” also features two members of the Little Rock Nine and Symone, the winner of the 13th season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”)
Aqela and Basira said the people they’ve met through Canopy have become their best friends. But broadly speaking, they’ve also found NWA residents to be warm and welcoming even when they’re strangers.
“This is nice for me, and this is new for me,” Aqela said.
Joanna Krause, Canopy’s executive director, said Canopy prioritizes providing support for newly arrived families far longer than the federal government’s mandated 90 days. She thanked the many local volunteers, donors and elected officials who help make that extended approach possible.
More families will soon be arriving from Afghanistan and elsewhere, Krause added. NWA residents can sign up to volunteer, assemble welcome kits or get involved in other ways through the organization’s website. Canopy especially needs help finding available housing for arriving families.
“We have made the commitment to what we call the long welcome,” Krause said.