In May 2016, five young girls came to America with their parents and brother from Afghanistan with their family to begin a new life. They were relocated to America in order to escape the violence of the Taliban and get a fresh start.

As a collective effort to help the family acclimate to a new culture and proceed to lead productive American lives, local mentors work together to help ease the transition.

Sarah Boggess is one of those mentors, who has been helping these girls since Day One. She is a long-time member of the Greenbush Area YMCA, and felt that the girls would benefit from spending time at the Y.

“I met the family through a mutual friend in May 2016, when they first arrived,” Sarah explained. “It’s challenging to move to a new country if you’re a refugee, but these girls are resilient and smart.”

Since meeting the girls, Sarah has been working with the family to help them acclimate to their new life. As part of the transition, Sarah brought them to the Greenbush YMCA to attend swim lessons, where they received a scholarship to cover the costs.

Prior to their move to America, the girls had not had swimming experience. At the Y, we believe that every child deserves the opportunity to learn how to swim and be safe and confident around water.

“They were obviously very scared getting in the water at first,” said Sarah’s daughter Anna, a youth mentor who has been swimming with the girls. “But I went in with them. They really do enjoy swimming and trying new things and activities.”

The girl’s energy is contagious. During this interview, three of the five girls were there to share their story: Shakeela, Bas Kila, and Shabnam.

Four of the sisters received scholarships to take swim lessons — Nine-year-old twins Shakeela and Bas Kila and their older sisters Gul Jamala and Ali Gula. Shabnam is excited to begin. She is already referring to the swim instructor, Lauren McLaughlin, as her “teacher.”

“When the girls first came for swim lessons, they were very nervous and very reluctant to get in,” Lauren explained. “They started off very shy, but by the third class, they begged to go do jumps in the deep end. They were very brave.”

“I swim in the water. Go up and down and jump,” Bas Kila said, plugging her nose, imitating the swimming moves she learned in class.

All of the girls have been working very hard to learn English, but still primarily speak Pashto, their native language. But despite the language barrier, the girls made friends and quickly became the social butterflies of their swim group.

“They just want to play games and do the next brave thing, right? Lauren says looking at the girls who smile back, nodding their heads. “Their love for the water had them advance so quickly in our swim lessons. We just had a really, really good time. We had a great time with them.”

“I go swimming because I like it,” said Bas Kila with a huge smile on her face.

*The Y is a global organization with an inclusive mission. We welcome all people and believe that communities are stronger and more cohesive when everyone has an opportunity to contribute and neighbors from all backgrounds work together on a shared vision for the future.