GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — They have come to this country looking for hope. Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees escaped terror and the Taliban rule.
They are in the United States now to build their lives from the ground up. One Afghan refugee described his experiences in his own words, and how he is helping new Afghan evacuees adjust to life in Wisconsin:
"My name is Sayed. I came from Afghanistan in 2016."
Born and raised in the Baghlan Province of Afghanistan, Sayed Wardak's life was changed forever during the war in Afghanistan. To support his family, Sayed worked as an interpreter for the United States military.
"My life was not safe over there, after working with [the U.S. military]," says Sayed.
Working alongside U.S. forces made him a target for the Taliban.
"They call me, and they say, "Hey, we know you, we know your family,'" said Sayed. "'If you don't quit your job, you will be very hurt.' I knew even if I quit my job, it wouldn't be safe for me there. They, they are like animals."
NBC 26 asked Sayed how the Taliban threatened him. He concisely responded, "They threatened, death."
Knowing it would take time to receive his Special Immigration Visa, Sayed went on the run.
"I was staying one day in one house, the next day a different house, the next time a different house."
Sayed said he stayed on the run for about nine months. During that time he did not dare go outside at night for fear of being ambushed by a member of the Taliban.
It took more than a year before he and his wife, Sairah, were granted visas. After his life had been threatened by the Taliban, Sayed did not have the time to wait for government refugee financial benefits. So he used his own money to buy two plane tickets to the U.S. and temporarily stay with his cousin in Green Bay.
"When I got here, I felt safe. I was sleeping in my bed, I could get out at night or day," he says. "I was feeling so good like when I was going in my bed I was feeling like, 'Oh my God, I don't need to run anywhere, I don't need to be scared of anything.'"
Sayed was safe but far from stable.
Knowing he needed help, a friend told him about Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay. The organization helped Sayed learn the process of searching for a job in the U.S. and gave him a one-time benefit of $1,200 for necessities. But he still needed to find a place to live, a process that proved to be challenging.
"Because I didn't have a renting history or a credit score," he says. "They don't give you a house or apartment if you don't have a credit score." After dozens of searches, Sayed finally found a landlord on Craigslist willing to rent him an apartment without credit or rental history. It was an opportunity Sayes never took for granted.
After just two weeks in the U.S., Sayed landed a job at a local factory but getting to work proved to be another challenge.
"Because I didn't have a [driver's] license I was riding a bicycle to work."
Sayed said that after riding to work every day for a week, he woke up one winter morning and found both of the tires on his bike were flat.
Knowing he couldn't be late, Sayed started running to work. That's when he saw a co-worker pull up alongside him on the road.
"When I was running, there was a guy he was just passing me. He saw my face at work or something, he doesn't even know my name. He said, 'Do you work with me? Can I give you a ride?' I said 'Of course, you can give me a ride."
"Because he helped me in that situation, that day in that time, I will never forget it," Sayed said.
It was those random acts of kindness from Green Bay residents that helped get him through the difficult first few weeks of immigrating to the U.S.
Over time, Sayed saved enough money for a car, started a family, and just recently achieved a milestone in his own American Dream.
"I bought a house. I have my own house. I moved in last month and I don't need to rent anything anymore," Sayed said with pride.
Now, paying it forward, Sayed is working with the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay to help new Afghan evacuees adjust to living in Wisconsin. Concepts like credit history, buying a cell phone, getting a driver's license, buying groceries are all customs he had to learn the hard way. Lessons he wants to pass on.
"I cannot make it much easier, but I will make it a little easy for them to get through the first step," said Sayed. "The first step, the first couple months, the first year it's not easy because everything is different!"
Sayed hopes to give the new evacuees hope, with his own story showing that anything is possible.
"In America, if you work hard, you have an opportunity, you can do your business, your own business. You can do anything. It is freedom."
Sayed adds, "There's nothing for me that I say, 'Oh I cannot do that.' I can do anything if I want it...anything!"
Sayed is now successful at his job at a local cheese factory. He is a husband, a father, a homeowner, and soon, an American Citizen.
His wife just took her oath to complete her citizenship last week and Sayed said that he isn't far behind.
For Sayed, becoming an American citizen has been a 6-year journey that saved his life.