A little over a year ago, the world watched as American troops withdrew from Afghanistan. As a result, thousands of Afghan residents and families desperately tried to get out before it was no longer possible.
For those lucky enough to go, the arduous journey had just begun as they traveled to various landing sites overseas, military bases where people were housed in large white tents on tarmac, and a number of rehabilitation centers across the United States. They faced new challenges – finding housing, employment, education, health care and community – all while learning a new language away from everything they knew.
At Ascentria Care Alliance in Massachusetts, we had to act quickly to be prepared. Our housing services hit their lowest point under the previous government, with one office (out of three) closed.
As of October 2021, we knew that more than 75,000 Afghans were on American soil, exceeding the capacity of the Reconstruction Service. At first, Ascentria agreed to accept approximately 300 Afghans, but that number soon increased. We were in uncharted territory and had to figure out how to help a lot of people very quickly.
Figuratively, we were building the plane while we were flying it. We needed to find enough volunteers to help with resettlement, raise enough money to support Afghan evacuees, and make sure we could manage the hundreds of tasks associated with everyone’s resettlement.
From health assessments to housing inspections and supply list checks, there is a seemingly endless list of tasks that must be completed for each person arriving as a refugee – within the first 90 days of their arrival.
Technology to the rescue
When we got word of the large number of people in need, we had weeks – not months – to prepare. As we worked to pull together the community’s resources, we realized that we needed to organize them somewhere.
During one of our many meetings with an inspiring group of volunteers, we learned of a company in Boston that had a Community Care Record platform that allowed us to organize hundreds of projects—across multiple agencies and volunteers—and customize fields to reflect the nature of residency work. and do it in a way that complies with government requirements.
In record time, we worked with Activate Care to set up their platform, giving our 1,500 plus volunteers a place to manage, monitor and collaborate.
Over the past 12 months, Activate Care’s technology has enabled a more seamless, collaborative and effective way to manage the resettlement process. And we have yet to fully exploit its potential.
As a relative newbie to residency, the number of tasks to deliver in the first 90 days is overwhelming. Typically, our team has different case files for each domain and rarely has line of sight into parallel work. It was amazing to have the ability to design a resettlement workflow, put all the necessary tasks in one place and link to the necessary forms with additional instructions.
More important, though, was providing our volunteer teams—who raised nearly $1 million—a clear way to submit a refund request and track the process.
We will continue to work with Activate Care to streamline and streamline our workflows so staff can focus on providing services, instead of worrying about ticking boxes and fumbling through Excel spreadsheets.
After the workflows are in place, we hope to collect data to better understand the impact of the program, as we need to improve our services and broader questions such as how to reduce the effects of isolation and improve economic self-sufficiency.
What was achieved?
Housing refugees requires many people to work together day after day. There is no substitute for these “human” moments. But technology played an important role, allowing people to focus on the work they alone could do and facilitating the critical collaboration needed to achieve this feat.
Now that work has slowed down, we’re excited to see what other opportunities technology presents as we welcome new community members from Ukraine and continue our work to ensure our Afghan neighbors get the support they need.
Aimee Mitchell is Head of Community Services at Ascentria Care Alliance