Local Afghan Refugees Find Comfort in Pickleball
Pickleball is considered as America’s fastest growing sport, so it would make sense to introduce it to some of America’s newest residents.
“It’s very interesting to play, like you know you move around a lot,” said Haniya, a 21-year-old Afghan refugee.
On a recent Friday at Pickle in the Middle in Brooklyn Park, instructors took time to teach the rules of the game to a group of Afghan refugees who fled to Minnesota after the Taliban took control of the country nearly two years ago.
“A lot of these women are at home, and they don’t leave their homes unless there’s an event like ours to provide for them,” said Sonia Anunciacion, the Afghan program lead with the nonprofit Alight.
This pickleball outing is one of a number of field trips Anunciacion organizes for these women as they try to get acclimated to life here.
“These are some of the struggles that they’ve shared: that there’s depression and isolation,” Anunciacion said. “They’re far from each other and there isn’t any form of transportation for them. So we are trying to solve for that by providing that transportation. We have childcare to give the moms a break.”
In other words, Alight is trying to make Minnesota feel like home.
“That’s what Alight is doing for us, and that’s what I’m thankful for,” said Haniya. (CCX isn’t providing her last name, or showing the faces of the women, due to safety concerns in Afghanistan).
Haniya is one of the nine women who came to Pickle in the Middle to learn the sport and have a little fun. The 21-year-old student said she learned English by listening to American music and watching clips of Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres.
“I would say, like, getting together, being able to speak English, learning new stuff,” Haniya said, referring to what she enjoyed about the field trips. “So many good points right here.”
Minnesota is likely a temporary stop for Haniya and many of the other women here.
“Afghanistan is my country, my homeland,” Haniya said. “I hope I can go back one day.”
Until that day comes, the staff at Alight are doing everything they can to ensure their stay in Minnesota is as enjoyable as possible.
“Their lives have changed quite a bit from a year and a half ago,” Anunciacion said. “They’re happier now, they have jobs, they have homes, they feel secure and safe. But there’s still so much to do.”
Meanwhile, Alight says it needs donations and volunteers to make these field trips possible. If you’d like to help, you can do so by going to the Alight website.