ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — World Refugee Day is coming up on June 20 and is meant to celebrate and honor refugees around the world.
Over the last five years, Rochester has become a hub for refugees, as it has the third-highest rate of resettlement in New York State.
Walid Shaheed is a part of the refugee community in Rochester and has made it his mission to give back to the organization he said gave him so much.
Shaheed was an interpreter for the United States Armed Forces in Afghanistan for 7 years. He determined it was time to leave his home country, which he suspected would soon fall to Taliban control. He wanted a better life for his two daughters and two sons.
“I’m someone who never gives up in life,” Shaheed said.
Shaheed first applied for a Special Immigrant Visa in 2014, received approval in 2017, an interview in 2019, and waited for his visa approval until August of 2021 when the Taliban had officially regained control.
“We were going to be left behind and because of my popularity, I would have been slaughtered because I knew the Taliban will come and they will take over the country,” Shaheed said.
Shaheed had been working with ‘Keeping Our Promise,’ an organization out of Rochester that helps war-time refugees. He said he was in contact with executive director Ellen Smith the entire time.
“We needed to get him out of the country. And we were able to get a couple of army colonels, and army captains together to get him on a list to get out. And these are things we’re still doing,” Smith said.
When Shaheed finally got to Rochester, he attributed his family’s safety and their success all to Ellen.
“Because of her today, my kids are going to school. Especially my daughters. In Afghanistan, there is no education for girls. So now, I have these reports. 99% average for both my daughters so this is because of her, because of Keeping Our Promise. This is a very, very proud moment for me. I’m sure we will have a very, very bright future here,” Shaheed said.
Shaheed said one of his daughters wants to be an immigration attorney and the other wants to be a heart surgeon, both goals he said they would only be able to dream of in Rochester.
The Shaheeds are just one of many families who have made it to where they are today thanks to Keeping Our Promise, but the organization can only help as many families as they have funding for.
Starting Monday, Keeping Our Promise is kicking off its “All in for Afghan Allies” fundraiser. You can find out how to get involved at keepingourpromise.org.