Fund helps immigrant family find ‘better future’ in Oakland

Abdul Nasiri, his wife and four children left Kabul in 2016 for a new life in Oakland with only several changes of clothes.

They wanted to save most of the space in their suitcases for their children’s academic accomplishments — report cards, certificates of achievement and medals they’d won.

“We left because of the war … those conditions,” Nasiri, 47, said in his native Dari. “We came here to pursue a better life, and to give our kids a brighter future.”

Because Nasiri formerly worked as a driver at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, the family arrived at its two-bedroom apartment on a special immigrant visa given to Afghans who had helped U.S. forces.

Despite not knowing any English, Nasiri said he and his wife, Golbobo, were excited to embark on a life that presented better opportunities for their daughter and three young sons.

Nasiri got a job working in maintenance at a cosmetics company in San Leandro. But within months of the family’s arrival their livelihoods became uncertain when he had to undergo surgery to get his prostate removed. Nasiri couldn’t work for four months. He lost his job and his ability to pay the family’s nearly $1,700 monthly rent.

To help with expenses, Bibi Farha, the Nasiris’ 18-year-old daughter, quit her English classes at the College of Alameda and started working at the dining hall of a senior living center in Walnut Creek.

Even with Bibi Farha’s income, food stamps and financial assistance from CalWORKS, the family still struggled as late fees from their overdue rent piled up.

“In Afghanistan, our challenges had to do with war. Here, it’s rent,” Golbobo, 41, said in Dari.

As Abdul remained bedridden, feeling helpless, Golbobo and Bibi Farha searched for ways to earn extra cash — all while trying to assimilate to American culture and learn a new language.

That’s when the Season of Sharing stepped in, covering the family’s delinquent rent for January and February.

“It was incredibly helpful,” Abdul said. “Incredibly helpful.”

In April, Abdul was back at work and had a second new job in laundry at a hotel in Concord. But the family still has a long road ahead before it feels a sense of security, especially because Abdul earns at least $500 less per month than his rent.

“We’ve been here a year, and we are still struggling to make ends meet,” Golbobo said as she stood inside their apartment, covered floor to floor with Afghan rugs.

Their daughter and two youngest sons share one bedroom, mostly bare aside from the pink and blue stuffed animals adorning their beds. Their oldest son sleeps in the storage room, just big enough to fit a twin bed.

The closest mosque with a vibrant Afghan community is in Alameda, too far for them to visit easily, Bibi Farha said, adding that the Nasiris feel a void when it comes to being part of a community in Oakland. Their happiest weekends are spent in Sacramento with Abdul’s cousin.

But both Abdul and Golbobo refuse to give up for one reason: Their children are thriving.

Bibi Farha is back in school, studying English, five days a week, with hopes of becoming a dentist one day.

Sohrab, 12, and Tawab, 10, attend Garfield Elementary School, where they regularly receive accolades from teachers in math and reading.

And that’s not all.

“I’ve made almost 300 friends,” Tawab said as his siblings erupted in laughter.

“Whoever says hi to him, he think it’s his friend,” joked Folad, 14, his oldest brother.

Folad, a student at Bret Harte Middle School, is a budding soccer star with dreams of playing professionally.

“In Afghanistan, I’d play soccer, for fun, but with no shoes,” Folad said. “Here, I’m on a team. I have friends from all over the world.”

His younger brothers also love soccer, but Sohrab’s real passion lies within the pages of his sketchbook, filled with drawings of houses, animals and fruit.

“I want a lot of things,” Sohrab said. “I want to be an artist. I want to be a soccer player. I want to be an engineer.”

Tawab’s dreams are echoes of his older brothers — soccer player and artist — with a few notable additions: a gymnast, basketball player and a doctor.

While Folad fantasizes of cleats, an open field and soccer balls, Abdul has photos of Folad’s report cards in his phone and proudly shows them to anyone who will look, smiling as he points to his son’s A’s and B’s.

“I don’t want them to end up like me,” Abdul said. “I want a different future for them.”

Sarah Ravani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @SarRavani

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