Imagine answering a knock on the door and being greeted with a warm and reassuring smile in a new country. Now imagine, the last knock on a door you recall was one urging you to quickly pack a bag and gather your family to head to the airport, suddenly leaving your home behind.
When the World Bank announced a plan to undertake their largest relocation ever, moving over 300 World Bank Staff and consultants from Kabul to Islamabad and Dushanbe, the World Bank Group Family Network (WBGFN) was well prepared to partner with them to ensure a smoother transition.
In recent years, the Islamabad WBGFN has been an extremely active group, excelling at welcoming and helping establish new arrivals, planning outings, get-togethers and service opportunities.
Their strength and importance did not go unnoticed by Gailius Draugelis, Islamabad Operations Manager, who said he was delighted that WBGFN is active in Islamabad and is very supportive of the mission of helping families and building community.
In fact, Gailious chaired the initial meeting to determine the best way to help the new arrivals from Kabul, which included WBGFN Executive Committee member Beverly Brar, Regional Champion Laurent Cinot, and Local Champions Rukhsana Khattak and Faiza Moosa. They joined Country office staff including Tsega Lapiso Dilebo and Mashood Ahmad Awan. This alliance between the WB Country Office and WBGFN is groundbreaking and hopefully will set the stage for collaboration in the future.
A representative from Metrica, Sadaf, would help address the immediate need for housing and schools as people arrived. Nearly 300 people arrived in the first few days, some of whom went onto Dushanbe, and others went to live with family in the region, leaving about 200 new arrivals needing support in Islamabad.
A ‘buddy system” was created to form part of the support framework helping to welcome, answer questions and acclimate the new arrivals. The buddy system was a perfect way for the WBGFN to become a valuable partner with the WBG, as their mission has always been to come alongside and offer support to newcomers so that, as Laurent explains, “no one (is) alone in a new country.”
Rukhsana had a key role to play working alongside Tsega coordinating and supporting volunteer buddies and creating community events such as information sessions, hikes, and soccer games. WhatsApp groups were created to help volunteers and staff quickly answer questions and provide necessary support.
Although she had only been the Local Champion for 4 months, Rukhsana got to work quickly recruiting volunteers and planning ways to help facilitate a smoother transition for the families. In addition to WB staff who became buddies, WBGFN members Faiza, Ummarah Ahsan, Yasmeen Rehan, Shabnam Farhan, and Shaiza Waheed each volunteered to serve 1-3 families each. And despite his increased role in the region, Laurent stepped up to serve three families.
Perhaps the most incredible volunteer, however, was Rukhsana herself, who joyfully took on not one or two, but 15 families! Each family has several children bringing the total number she supports to nearly 60. Fortunately, all fifteen families found housing in the same apartment complex. Rukshana also brings a surprising gift to the new arrivals- she speaks their language and understands their culture. Before moving to Islamabad in 1994 with her husband who works in IT for the Bank, Rukshana grew up in KPK speaking Pashtun. The region shares an almost identical culture with Kabul, so she has a special connection and is uniquely qualified for the role.
Wanting to make the families feel comfortable and understand their needs better, Rukshana headed to the apartment complex and began knocking on doors and introducing herself to the recently relocated spouses and families, letting them know she was there to help.
The most pressing concern for most families was housing, once that was taken care of, the question of school is the next hurdle. For International staff, most of their children speak English and have found places at local international schools. For the staff members Rukhsana supports, whose families don’t speak much English or the local language in Islamabad, finding adequate schooling has been a challenge; the CO is providing a tutor to help with language barriers so they can hopefully attend school in the near future.
After housing, schools and basic needs, many of the new arrivals have also sought help from buddies in finding medical care. With input from WBGFN, Counselors created training material for the volunteers to help foster understanding about the types of trauma and concerns that the relocated families might be facing.
To keep morale up, Rukshana has also planned several fun activities. The group enjoyed a day at the park playing soccer and another day took a hike to relax and spend time in nature.
Although the future is somewhat uncertain for the relocated staff and their families, Laurent, Rukhsana, and the rest of the WBGFN continue to volunteer their time and talents to support the World Bank’s efforts to help smoothen this transition. When additional surge support staff and counselors are reassigned, the WBGFN will continue to actively support all the members of the Islamabad country office, both old and new.
The WBGFN has proven to be a valuable resource and partner for the World Bank Group country offices in this circumstance. Hopefully, this is the beginning of many more partnerships between the two.