San Diego

San Diego resident transforms her home to help Afghan refugees rebuild their lives

Barbara Cummings has floor-to-ceiling stacks of donations that have overtaken her living room

NBC Universal, Inc.

It's been 18 months since the U.S. withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, and already more than 78,000 refugees have relocated to the U.S. in that time. 

Now some volunteers helping refugees in San Diego are saying they're seeing an increase in recent months of Afghans who have flown to South America and walked thousands of miles to the U.S.—Mexico border.

Barbara Cummings, a San Diego resident, has been volunteering to help refugees for a few years. Since October, she says she's seen almost two dozen Afghan refugees who have flown to Brazil and then walked thousands of miles for weeks through the Amazon jungle to make it to the U.S. because they are afraid for their lives in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Her entire home is dedicated to her mission of helping these refugees and has floor-to-ceiling stacks of donations that have overtaken her living room. 

She has made and donated hygiene bags for women, backpacks for children filled with school supplies and dry-erase boards so they can express themselves, kitchenware for families moving into new homes and blankets that she gathered through a neighborhood group. 

"I don't ever want anyone who crosses my path to feel so alone or so helpless, so if I'm in a position to elevate them a little bit and have a little fun, play some ping pong, play chess, just feel like 'OK if the worst happens to me here, I'll always have food. I'll always have a place to go,'" she said.

On a Wednesday morning, Sharif, Ali and Raziq are gathered in Cummings' kitchen, talking about the woman who has helped them so much. All three are Afghan refugees who have come to San Diego in the last six months after flying to Brazil and making the journey on foot, and sometimes by car, to the border.

Sharif and Ali both have wives and kids they have left behind in Afghanistan. Sharif said his daughter is in sixth grade, and unless he can get his asylum case approved, next year she will no longer be allowed to attend school due to Taliban rules. 

The three men are all in various stages of their asylum cases but said that Cummings has been an enormous help to them, driving them to medical appointments, court cases and odd jobs to help them make ends meet. 

Cummings has even opened her home to Ali and Sharif, who are now living with her.

"When I arrived here, she is treating me like a mother calling me: 'Where are you? Do you have food? Do you have a place to live? Are you homeless?'" said Sharif. 

The men said they don't know how they can ever repay Cummings for her kindness and generosity. They hope that eventually, when their asylum cases are processed, they can be reunited with their families in the U.S., and they said they want to work for the rest of their lives helping Barbara with her mission.

Cummings said she is still in great need of money for food to help the refugees and she is always looking for people who might have an extra room in their home who may be able to take a refugee in while they wait for their work permits. 

If you'd like to help Cummings, you can contact her at or 619-316-6694. 

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