Hamed and Shabnam Sediqi came to the United States in September 2021 from Kabul, Afghanistan with their family of 13. With some help from the International Rescue Committee, Inc, the brother and sister learned about programs at Urban Corps of San Diego that would help them integrate into American society, help them get their high school diplomas, and train for their first jobs in the U.S.
Now an Urban Corps corpsmember, Hamed Sediqi, now 21-years-old, said when they came to the U.S. and placed in El Cajon, they were “kind of lost” what to do.
“We did not know what to do, where to start, where to learn English, and where to get a job,” he said. “We were introduced to the IRC. They had us enroll in the English classes. Urban Corps had the high school program where you can get your high school diploma, and in the meantime, you can get paid working for Urban Corps. On our first day at IRC, they took us to Urban Corps and that is where our journey started. I got my driver’s license, my work permit. When I came to the U.S., I knew zero English.”
Hamed graduated with his high school diploma on June 16, and just completed the utility line clearance tree trimming program.
Urban Corps Conservation Specialist Shabnam Sediqi, now 28, completed the Urban Corp program and is now an employee working to become an Urban Corps supervisor.
“We came from a country at war and lived in a bad situation,” she said. “When we came here, we started our lives from zero. Now we are working, but at that time we were confused and did not know how to get started in this great country where we knew nothing. The IRC helped us a lot with the San Diego Newcomers Project to help us month-to-month and introduced us to Urban Corps, which was a good start for us. I could not speak English either, but now I am good. I came to school, got my diploma, and now I work as staff at Urban Corps. Now, everything is good with the help of Urban Corps and the IRC.”
Urban Corps of San Diego Senior Program Director Marissa Cassani said its programs are for refugees who need a high school diploma.
“Hamed came here and first and foremost he needed his high school diploma,” she said. “Before we put him in our high school diploma (program), we needed to ensure he learned English first. Once they complete those (courses), they are ready to start their high school curriculum. Once they have gotten acclimated to our program, they work four days a week and attend school one day a week and he will have the option of staying on with conservation specialist, moving on to become a supervisor, like Shabnam did. Or they can move on from our program and we will help place them in employment with other agencies in their field of study or something else they might be interested in.”
Cassani said its programs give a corpsmember a year of training if they have their high school diploma, and after a year, the time may be extended on the need of the corpsmember, but without a high school diploma, the time spent there may be longer. Both Hamed and Shabnam Sediqi have participated in the program for a little more than a year.
“With Hamed and Shabnam we have the extraordinary cream of the crop corpsmember who came into our program, took advantage of every training and opportunity given to them. They are overachievers in the most positive way,” she said.
Cassani said as a conservation specialist, Shabnam Sediqi, was noticed by her supervisor who was “glowing” about all the progress she was making working at Urban Corps.
“She started a computer system at our e-waste recycling center, and according to her supervisor she got them all organized and cleaned up,” she said.
Shabnam Sediqi said working in the recycling department, every day they have drop offs or events where they collect electronic waste.
“I put everything we collect into the computer system, and afterwards we send all the equipment to another company. So, I organize everything so we can send it all out,” she said.
Cassini said she has been a huge help in revamping the recycling department, making its work more efficient and organized.
Hamed Sediqi was able to take a trip to Sacramento to meet other corps members and legislators.
“We had a trip to Sacramento for two days,” he said. “We met other corps people who are helping make California clean and beautiful. There are corps members from all over the state. They have the same programs we do here in San Diego.”
Hamed Sediqi said he is now leaning on continuing to work with Urban Corps.
“If I can change my life in a little over a year with Urban Corps, I highly recommend it to other people who want to change their life from zero to 100. Urban Corps is amazing,” he said.
IRC Development Manager Bennett Donine said both Hamed and Shabnam Sediqi were amazing individuals and took advantage of every opportunity given them.
“We are so happy to work with our partnerships with community partners here in San Diego,” she said. “With Urban Corps, African Alliance (Alliance for African Assistance), who can help welcome refugees to the community, we are so happy that San Diego has been so welcoming to these individuals. Bringing their experience and talents to the community is very important to the IRC and the broader community.”
IRC Interim Workforce Program Manager Rayan Kaskos has worked with IRC for more than 12 years. He said the IRC helped Hamed and Shabnam through its San Diego Newcomers Project, a state-funded project that provides cash aid for new arrivals who are not able to receive cash aid through the County.
For more information about Urban Corps of San Diego, visit urbancorpssd.org. For more information about IRC San Diego, visit rescue.org/united-states/san-diego-ca.
Corrections: In the original print article it stated the International Refugee Center. It should have said International Rescue Committee, Inc. In a quote it says African Alliance. The full name of the organization is the Alliance for African Assistance and has been added. The East County Californian regrets these errors.