Resettled Afghans Find New Lives and New Schools in Philadelphia

February 10, 2022

Dan Friedman

The first day of high school is always hard. It’s doubly difficult if you are not fluent in the language and barely know where you live.

That was where 15-year-old Ali Wahaj Mosakhil found himself in early December, trying to navigate from his new home in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Olney to Samuel Fels High School in Northeast Philadelphia.

Fortunately he had HIAS Pennsylvania, in the person of Michelle Ferguson, to help him get to school and back. As high school and post-secondary lead instructor on the Resettlement Team she reassured Ali Wahaj and his father Esmatullah that she would get him safely home.

Local Philadelphia radio station WHYY tells the story of how the Mosakhil family arrived in Philadelphia via military bases and temporary accommodation to arrive in Philadelphia under the care of HIAS Pennsylvania. Ali Wahaj is among the many new Afghan Americans in the Philadelphia area who are of school-age — up to one-third of the 650 recent arrivals.

They joined the Afghan community in the area but, says Valeri Harteg, the refugee education program manager at HIAS Pennsylvania, “It’s tough.” There’s a dearth of affordable housing, a resettlement sector in the process of rebuilding after the Trump presidency and only 90 days of support.
“Some families will have relatives and friends be resettled in other countries that have longer periods of resettlement … and the U.S. is not like that. It’s really fast. Really short.”

Listen to the story at WHYY.

Originally published at



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HIAS is the international Jewish humanitarian organization that provides vital services to refugees and asylum seekers in 16 countries.