Dr. Fahim Pirzada

Afghan doctor becomes an anchor for his community

Dr. Fahim Pirzada, 39, is who Afghan refugees call for help, while establishing his  life in a new land. In his Sacramento home, Pirzada’s wife Suman, 34, right, turns away because she does not want her face photographed for a portrait with their children, from left, Maryam, 12, Zakariya, 11, and Bahar, 7. Outside his home, he works as a medical interpreter – he was a doctor in Afghanistan. He also heads VIRTIS – the nonprofit Veteran, Immigrant and Refugee Trauma Institute of Sacramento – which provides mental health care to refugees.


While his brother Nasir Ahmad Noori holds his son Basat, 3,  Nazir Ahmad Ahmadi, 32, is reflected in one of the more than 30 certificates and letters of commendation from his years of work in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Nazir and his wife Nelam Ahmadi, 18, and their 6-month-old son, Ashir Ahmad Ahmadi, moved in with his brother because the apartment in which they were placed was infested with bugs. He is thinking of returning to Afghanistan.

Dr. Fahim Pirzada, right, visits Faisal Razmal, 28, left, who was shot in the eye with a flare gun on Aug. 2, 2015 after being accosted by a group of teens outside the Skyview Villa Apartments, where he had gathered some former interpreters to tell them about job openings.

An Afghan refugee, who has attempted suicide and does not want to be identified, clenches a portrait of her son, one of two she left behind in Afghanistan when her husband was granted a Special Immigrant Visa. She was allowed to bring only her two younger children. Her daughter was beaten by another girl in high school. “I’m tired of begging people to give my children a ride to school because it’s so unsafe for them to walk,” she said. 

Afghan women, who didn’t want their faces photographed, participate in an English class taught by Dr. Fahim Pirzada in December in Sacramento. He created the class at his apartment complex to help refugees with their resettlement requirement to learn English. Under Taliban rule, women are forbidden to attend school. Pirzada said that when they arrive here they often feel trapped in their apartments, unable to drive or speak English.

Dr. Fahim Pirzada enters the Balmoral Arms complex in Arden Arcade in March in Sacramento after an Afghan refugee complained about being placed in a dirty apartment with broken furniture, which was paid for with resettlement funds. The refugees are no longer well-paid translators, engineers, architects and doctors. Many say they don’t know how to start over, and find themselves in dangerous neighborhoods without jobs, cars or advocates. 

On his second day in the U.S. in March, Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holder Abdul Mutalib, right, listens to Dr. Fahim Pirzada. The family speaks little English, and the resettlement agency which brought them to the new home couldn’t understand Dari, their native language. “Our first impression is really bad here in America,” he said.

Dr. Fahim Pirzada greets Abdul Mutalib’s son while looking over the broken and dirty furniture that was given to the refugee family by the resettlement agency in March. Mutialib is among  SIV holders who have complained about how their “welcome money” is spent. Many say they would prefer to stay in a hotel and figure out the best place to live and how best to spend their money. “My friends are helping them,” Pirzada said. “Not the resettlement agency.” 

Afghan children react to the smell of their new home at the Balmoral Arms apartment in Arden Arcade in March in Sacramento. Their father Abdul Mutalib, left, explains to Dr. Fahim Pirzada how his wife had scrubbed the greasy floors. They were upset with the broken furniture they had received from their resettlement agency.


Afghan doctor volunteers as a lifeline for new arrivals