In 1980, soon after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, Zubair Popal fled the country with his wife, Shamim, two young sons and infant daughter.
“There was no hope for me to stay,” he recalls. “I thought about the future of my kids. And in those days when the Soviet Union went to a country and invaded that country, they never left.”
Eventually, the Popals landed in America and rebuilt their lives. Today, the family owns several successful restaurants in Washington, D.C., including the acclaimed Lapis, which serves Afghan cuisine. On a recent evening, they opened up the restaurant to host a free dinner welcoming refugees in their city.
“We came here exactly like these people – we had no place to stay,” Zubair Popal recalls. He chokes up and takes a long pause before adding, “It reminds me of the days we came … I know for these people it’s very hard, very hard.”
The dinner was part of Refugees Welcome, a campaign that encourages locals across the U.S. to host similar meals for refugees in their community — and to break barriers by breaking bread together.
“The intention is to really humanize the refugee issue and to say, let’s meet each other as neighbors. Let’s talk about ways that we’re similar rather than ways that we’re different,” says Amy Benziger, the U.S. lead for the campaign, which was launched in February and is sponsored by UNICEF, among other partners.
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