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Being a young adult is hard enough. Then the Taliban took over her country.

Marmar Hakim, an Afghan refugee who participated in the first and only West Coast university pilot program housing Afghan refugees, spoke this week about her experience coming to the United States after Kabul fell to the Taliban one year ago.

Hakim spoke at a news conference organized by Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont and the International Rescue Committee. The event coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul after the U.S. began withdrawing from the country after 20 years of war.

Hakim, 21, arrived in the U.S. in May 2022 after living in Kabul under the Taliban for six months.

“Our flight was canceled three times because we didn’t have a man [to accompany us],” Hakim said. “This is the rule of the Taliban, and this was a very hard time for us,” she said.

Hakim’s father died when she was 3 years old, leaving her and her mother without a male guardian in Afghanistan. After months of waiting in the capital, Hakim and her mother got a flight to Qatar, where they lived before coming to the U.S.

Dream becomes nightmare

The six months that Hakim lived in Kabul was her first time living under the Taliban.

“The first time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan was 21 years ago. And I am 21 years old. It was a very difficult time,” said Hakim, who had to stop going to university and give up her dream of becoming a dentist.

When Hakim came to the U.S., she and her mother were given transitional housing in the Bay Area through a pilot program at Notre Dame de Namur University.

“Our flight was canceled three times because we didn’t have a man [to accompany us]. This is the rule of the Taliban, and this was a very hard time for us.”

Marmam Hakim, Afghan refugee

They lived in the transitional housing for two months and moved into their new home in Hayward two weeks ago, beginning a new life in the Bay Area.

Notre Dame de Namur, a private Catholic university, is the first college on the West Coast to offer housing to Afghan refugees. The university has welcomed refugees admitted to the U.S. Through the Operation Allies Welcome program created by the Biden Administration last year during the U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Other universities across the country have also offered housing to Afghan refugees, including the University of Maryland, the University of Tulsa, Colorado State University, Indiana University and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Continuing partnerships

Notre Dame de Namur’s pilot program is a partnership with Every Campus A Refuge and the International Rescue Committee, which are continuing their work with Afghan refugees after the Taliban took over the capital one year ago.

“During this difficult moment in our country many want to turn inward and tune out the challenges that other people face,” said Belmont City Councilmember Davina Hurt, who spoke alongside Hakim at the press conference on Monday. “But not Belmont, not the Bay Area and not California.”

Notre Dame de Namur plans to continue the program, using graduate student housing to provide transitional housing to Afghan refugees beginning lives in the U.S.

Hakim is now settling into life in Hayward and thinking about returning to her education.

“Inshallah, I will be a dentist in my future,” Hakim said.