Elyssa is over 6,000 miles from home, but she is now a big part of the CCBA community. Her story is one of upheaval, courage, and personal transformation.
Elyssa was four years old when she and her mother, Behishta, were forced to flee their home in Afghanistan. It was August, 2021, the Taliban had just toppled the U.S.-backed Afghan government, and the airport in Kabul was crowded with frantic residents trying to get out of the country. Elyssa and Behishta, along with several of their relatives, managed to get on a flight to Qatar where they sheltered briefly in a refugee camp before ending up in New Mexico by way of Washington, D.C., and Texas. If that wasn’t enough, throughout this ordeal Behishta was seven months pregnant with twins and without her husband who had to remain in Turkey where he was working as a communications specialist for the U.N.
The young family ended up relocating to Hanover in late-2021 because Behishta was accepted into Dartmouth’s Master of Liberal Studies program. Meanwhile, Elyssa enrolled in a local preschool where she thrived and made rapid progress on her English language skills. With help for the newborn twins from Good Beginnings-Upper Valley, along with support from CommunityCare of Lyme and dozens of local volunteers, Behishta was able to continue her graduate studies in the spring while raising her three young children in a Hanover apartment. But with summer approaching, Behishta needed a place for Elyssa – now five years old – to keep cultivating her fluency in English, staying active, and building friendships.
This is where the CCBA connected with Elyssa and Behishta. Drawing on our organizational network of generous supporters, Elyssa was able to spend the entire summer in our camp. Though she was among the youngest campers in the program, she was also one of the most resilient – not unexpected, given all she had endured to get to the Upper Valley. On one July morning at camp, she was stung by a wasp, and after a few tears and some consolation, she raced right back into the mix. Elyssa made friends quickly, picked up easily on activities like Four-Square, hula-hooping, Frisbee, and soccer, and became a darling of the camp staff. Her favorite time in each day was the hour she spent learning to swim with the 20-25 other children in her age group. And with all the social interaction for 8-10 hours a day, her comprehension and speaking skills improved by leaps and bounds!
This fall, Elyssa is attending Kindergarten. The family lives close enough that she can walk to school each morning, and she has a steady group of friends in the neighborhood. Behishta gets to class each day using the Advance Transit service, and she continues to rely on local organizations and volunteers for social and economic support. The CCBA is proud to be part of that support system and happy to have played a role in Elyssa’s transition to life in the United States. As Behishta put it in a recent conversation, “The CCBA camp has been an amazing and a life-changing experience for Elyssa.”