160 Afghan students began school on Monday at a variety of San Diego Unified schools.
Many of the students are from families who are in the process of resettling to the United States in the aftermath of the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in August that ended the United States' longest war.
"They came here and they faced a lot of adversity and trauma getting away from the Taliban. In many cases these families were targeted because they were helpful to the American troops," said Marceline Marques, the operations support officer for San Diego Unified School District.
Marques said members of her team visited hotels across San Diego where many of these families are temporarily staying last week to do enrollment functions.
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"The children and the families were it felt like they were coming out of the walls, like we have not been able to get really accurate data on numbers because there are many different resettlement agencies working with the families," she said.
Marques said the school district decided to provide transportation directly to the hotels because many of the hotels were located in places where it would be difficult for the families to walk to get to the bus stops. Last week, with the help of 15 interpreters they hired, the school district held bus orientations at the hotels for families and students to learn how to ride the buses in preparation for their first day of school.
Non-profit agencies have been scrambling trying to get the Afghan families and students the supplies they need in preparation for the students to go to school.
Hajar Roschdi, founder of Kind Hearts, a local non-profit that has been helping refugees resettle for years says lately the numbers of refugees resettling in San Diego per month has been equivalent to the average number of refugees San Diego sees in one year. She received donations from people across San Diego and was able to visit a hotel on Sunday to provide some of the students who were starting their first day of school with new backpacks and school supplies.
"It's going to be a new experience, overwhelming for the kids for sure and maybe even the parents so we’re just trying to help any way we can to just ease that process," she said.
Last week, parents and students at one of the local schools who heard about the 37 new Afghan students who would be starting school Monday got together to make signs welcoming the students in their native languages.
"It exposes them to the world. It's a small world out there and you know making sure that they know that other kids out there are struggling harder than they are and they're grateful for what they have and they see that these Afghan kids are so grateful of the efforts we make for them," said Ben Jacobs, a parent and chairman of Welcome Home, another non-profit that has also been assisting refugees in their resettlement process.
The non-profit and school leaders say the Afghan families are still in need of several things.
"There's a lot that these families need, many of them we all saw the news back several months ago when we saw families you know getting on like cargo planes not regular people transporting planes with very little more than what was on their back and maybe a little bag, so clothing has been a huge need. I noticed children walking with shoes on that the backs have been cut out because their feet are growing," Marques said.
In addition she says the children need shoes in all sizes, feminine hygiene products, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soaps, diapers, strollers, baby carriers, toys, crayons, and art supplies.
Hajar Roscdi says if you want to help with supplies to please email her at email@example.com.
Editor's note: The name of one of the local schools has been removed to protect the refugee students.