Supporting the Afghan community in North West London for 20 years

Paiwand’s chief executive on the charity’s work
By Fahima Zaheen

Paiwand chief executive

When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last August, news channels overflowed with stories of terrified Afghans seeking to escape their beleaguered homeland. The UK government pledged to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees while the public rushed in with donations and support. 

But as always, the news agenda shifts to new conflicts and new refugees. While donations have dried up, Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, taking a mental toll on the UK Afghan community.

After the overwhelming sense of relief upon reaching a place of safety, complex mental health problems can bubble to the surface. There is guilt, because loved ones are still in Afghanistan. Depression, often if they’ve not found a job or home. Shock, as the realisation of being a stranger in a strange land sinks in. Trauma, as their experiences can come rushing back to them at any time. 

What refugees desperately need is a sense of community. Without it, the issues they face only worsen: language barriers, trauma, mental illness, inadequate living conditions and a lack of access to healthcare and education, all further alienate asylum seekers and refugees.

In 2002, six friends who fled the conflict in Afghanistan set up a grassroots community organisation called Paiwand — meaning ‘unity’ in Farsi. They aimed to help refugee families learn about their new home and build happy lives in the UK. 

20 years later, Edgware-based Paiwand has a dedicated full-time team and 100 volunteers offering a range of services to support refugees, asylum seekers and migrants across North West London. Services include community advocacy on: housing, welfare, health and legal matters; in addition to immigration advice, mental health counselling, youth projects, and accommodating unaccompanied minors who arrive in the UK and are in need of 24-hour support.

I first became involved with Paiwand 15 years ago when my children joined Paiwand’s Saturday school and saw how they helped them become more aware of their community. I’m now extremely proud to be their CEO.

While I was born in Afghanistan, I’m now a British citizen and the UK is my home. But my first 10 years here were tough, coming to terms with being back at square one in life. If I’d known there were community organisations like Paiwand to help, I cannot tell you the difference it would have made.

Groups like Paiwand work tirelessly to promote community wellbeing – not just by providing advocacy services, counselling, and legal advice, but also through creating spaces to connect with other members of the Afghan diaspora, like our Saturday school, weekly sports activities for young people, or mental health workshops.

Thousands of people benefit from these services and the demand is constantly growing. We’re overwhelmed by requests from people in crisis, but we simply don’t have the resources to help everyone in need.

Like many charities, we are extremely underfunded, relying on donations and support from volunteers — we desperately need mental health professionals, so any counsellors or therapists willing to donate their time, please contact us (English-only speakers are also welcome).

For more information about donations, please visit https://paiwand.enthuse.com/profile 

We are always looking for volunteers – if you’d like to get involved directly instead, please find out more on https://www.paiwand.com/ 

For information on the Community Sponsorship scheme, visit https://www.unhcr.org/uk/community-sponsorship-5f9825b34.html.

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