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April 6, 2012 > Helping elderly immigrants transition

Helping elderly immigrants transition

By Jessica Noel Flohr

"Respect your elders" is something that many of us were taught growing up. For Farida Sultany, respecting one's elders is a way of life. Sultany, a young woman of 25, is the program coordinator for the Afghan Elderly Association (AEA). She recently made her debut as a film director with her project "Komak" (The Help), a documentary on services offered by AEA.

Whole families have fled the war-torn country of Afghanistan to seek refuge in the United States. Of over 300,000 Afghan Americans living in the U.S., half reside in the Bay Area. For elderly immigrants it is an especially difficult challenge to adjust to life in their adopted land. Language and cultural barriers often prevent access to needed resources.

Najia Hamid arrived in the United States in 1990. As a translator for Afghan residents in Fremont, she saw the need for support services for elderly Afghan immigrants and founded AEA in 1995 with very limited resources. The organization began with 12 members and received its first notable donation from Kaiser Permanente in 2000; it has now grown to include over 600 members.

Large numbers of Afghan citizens began to flee their country when the Soviets invaded in late 1979, the beginning of a 10-year occupation that took at least one million lives. This was followed by years of civil war and the rise and fall of Taliban control. In 2001, yet another war began, this time with direct involvement.

Elderly Afghan immigrants often show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), requiring extra care and assistance when transitioning to a new and quite different environment. While elders in Afghanistan are treated with great respect as an integral part of their family, a fast-paced, youth-oriented lifestyle in the United States can result in confusion and isolation.

To assist elderly Afghan immigrants, AEA has developed services including healthcare, naturalization assistance and housing. "Komak," directed by Farida Sultany, premiered to a full house on the Persian New Year, March 21 at the Centerville Community Center. The director played a starring role, introducing AEA and its services and sharing personal stories from AEA members.

One of the most significant services offered by the AEA is the health program which started in 2006. The Healthy Aging Program includes exercise, information on nutrition and healthy eating, health education and a chance to socialize with other seniors. Health Promoter is focused on homebound elders. One woman in the film expressed the positive effect of home visits saying, "I am happy all day." This is the ultimate goal of AEA... to let these men and women know that they are not alone.

To learn more about this organization, visit:

Photo Caption: "Komac" director and AEA Program Coordinator Farida Sultany with Ms. Hajera Noori in the Healthy Aging Program.

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