Sharing community: Airbnb.org’s Afghan refugee program
Inspired by your generosity, Airbnb.org is committed to providing temporary housing for 20,000 Afghan refugees in response to the crisis in Afghanistan. The effort is being funded by Airbnb, Brian Chesky, and other donors—including Airbnb Hosts.
Many of you have also opened your homes to refugees for free or at a discount, welcoming refugees as they get resettled in new places around the world. We recently spoke with an Airbnb.org Host and guest about their experiences and what the program has meant to them.
(Some names have been changed to protect their privacy.)
Creativity and healing in a new land
Shaheen recently left Afghanistan and is starting a new life in the United States. Leaving home—including his wife and three kids—has been a difficult journey, but he says he finds comfort in getting outside, meditating, and being creative. He takes walks in a park near his new home, sits at the harbor, and photographs mountains, trees, and flowers. Later, he uses the photos as references for his paintings.
“I release the pressure of the day by painting and doing calligraphy,” Shaheen says. These practices keep him grounded and connected to his home in Afghanistan, while he copes with separation from his family.
“I’m physically here, but mentally there,” he says. Shaheen shares that the refugee experience includes grieving the past, adjusting to an unfamiliar present, and feeling uncertain about the future.
“This isn’t just my story, it’s the story of thousands,” he says. “It’s very difficult to cross this road. You don’t know how to shop, you don’t know how to write. Everything is different.”
Upon his arrival in the United States, Shaheen searched for stability and community. Through Lutheran Social Services, he received money, groceries, and a free stay through Airbnb.org to help make starting over easier.
His stay has broadened Shaheen’s views on home and community in ways he didn’t expect.
Shaheen says he also appreciates his relationship with his Host. This is Shaheen’s first time staying in an apartment, so his Host showed him how to use a lockbox and get inside the building. They plan to have lunch together before Shaheen moves to his next destination.
Shaheen is still finding steady ground between his new life in America and the life he left behind in Afghanistan. As Shaheen longs to reunite with his family, he finds hope in the power of spoken word. “I just want to share the voice of my heart,” he says. “I want peace for myself and my people. I want to give hope to my children, from here. I want them to know freedom.”
Home as a space for rest and discovery
Melissa became an Airbnb Host in March 2021. Through Airbnb.org, she hosted a free stay for a family impacted by Hurricane Ida, and now she’s offering her space to people seeking refuge in other times of crisis.
When she heard about the thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Melissa was eager to help. She responded to her local YMCA, an Airbnb.org partner, when the organization put out a call for someone who could house a family of seven.
Melissa knew her place was spacious enough to accommodate them comfortably. The creative and natural touches in her home gave her a way to connect with her guests and offer support.
“After my daughter left for college, my home felt like an empty nest,” Melissa says. “Honestly, hosting has really helped with loneliness. It’s nice to see kids playing in the yard, families cooking and playing with my board games.”
The children were especially curious and excited about the birdfeeder. “I have a book called Backyard Birds in Texas and binoculars. I showed the children and mother the different birds you can see here,” Melissa says. She bonded with them over the cardinals and bluejays they spotted together during their stay.
Melissa credits her community’s outpouring of support for making the family feel even more welcome in their temporary home.
“The YMCA showed up with a fridge full of groceries.” Melissa says. “Anything the family could want to cook, including halal spices. They also brought three plastic bins full of baby supplies, toiletries, and school supplies.”
Dario Lipovac, Senior Program Director of the Houston YMCA, says that of all the donations his organization receives, housing is the most practical. “It is so telling about people who are open to letting strangers into their home, and the host community offering support. It’s a unifying moment to see people say, ‘What can we do to help?’”
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