For the past four years, David Broida has worked as a volunteer for HIAS PA, a refugee services group that provides a wide range of services to the newest Americans.
HIAS’ mission resonates acutely with Broida, the son of immigrants from Lithuania and Poland who “came with nothing.” He recites their motto, one he particularly likes, by heart: “Then we helped because they were Jews; now we help because we are Jews.”
Broida’s sleigh, a late-model Toyota Hybrid, is packed with vacuums and strollers, tablets and televisions and, sometimes, a laptop. A few on Broida’s list are musicians, or were; for them, he brings instruments. Lightly used acoustic guitars in surprisingly good condition. The bikes, sometimes for kids, sometimes for grown-ups, are on a rack affixed to the trunk.
Broida, 74, of Haverford, indeed is like the mythical Claus, only he makes his rounds far more regularly (every Saturday), and those on the receiving end of his generosity have stories that aren’t the stuff of kids’ fairy tales.
Masih Yousofi, 37, is a musician, a singer-songwriter with the boyish good looks of a pop star and the talent to match. After Broida delivers him a brand-new guitar — his old one was crushed when his young daughter, not knowing its significance, trampled it underfoot — he tunes up and sings a song for his guests, accompanying himself on guitar.
The song is his daughter’s favorite, and as he plays and sings, the way she watches him tells you she couldn’t idolize him any more. The way he looks back says he’s forgiven her for breaking his old guitar.
“This is why I live,” Yousofi says, pointing to his daughter and guitar. “This is everything.”
Yousofi was a well-known musician in his native Kabul, the Afghan capital, with a large following. So large, he said, that errands became ordeals — “Selfies and all of that,” he said. His stage name is Masih Raihan, and his videos are all over YouTube. In Afghanistan, his music was the soundtrack to films’ closing credits — see 2015’s “The Flower Robber.”
In the United States, however, he works as a security guard for low pay.
Yousofi came here in 2018 with his wife and young daughter, waiting just eight months for a visa (instead of the usual two years or more) because he’d served as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Kabul. He interpreted for special forces and the United States Agency for International Development, among others.
“It is very dangerous,” Yousofi said of the work he did in Kabul. “Very dangerous places.”
Yousofi is not just talking about working in the field.
If you work with the Americans you’re on their radar, he explains, meaning the Taliban. Once you’re on the Taliban’s radar, it’s time to go.
Broida, who’s worked with Afghan refugees for more than four years, has heard many versions of the same story.
Like Mir Atiqullah Hashimi’s.
Hashimi worked with the U.S. government in Kabul as an interpreter and then with military contractor Dynacorp. He became a U.S. embassy liaison.
“It was a very good job,” he said.
But, similar situation: “Anybody who works with Americans gets targeted by the Taliban,” Broida explained.
Now his family is safe, at least from the Taliban, living, as many of the resettled Afghani families do — in a Northeast Philadelphia townhome. He works two menial jobs, for low pay, in poor conditions, and his hours are such that he rarely sees his kids.
Last week, Broida brought the Hashimis strollers for their younger children; this week, it’s a vacuum cleaner and Amazon Fire tablets for the younger kids. They show him where to plug it in and how to charge it. He asks after their homework and feeds them math problems to solve on their tablets.
Broida is humble, but people like Hashimi and Mohammad Aahmadzai, another Afghani refugee and former Army interpreter, look at him as some kind of angel or patron saint.
“David is the best,” Aahmadzai says. “He is doing a lot.”
Broida insists even what he does is not enough.
“Material things are nice,” Broida says, “but what really makes the difference is taking an interest in their lives.”
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