Volunteer Helps Resettle Afghan Refugees

Sally Peake exercises a double vocation: first, as a physical therapist keeping senior Maryknoll priests and brothers mobile; and second, helping the Ossining for Refugees group to locally resettle an Afghan family and a single Afghan woman.

Peake, who has worked for Maryknoll since 1997, lives with her husband in Pleasantville, New York, and is an active member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America there.

Her vocational call to mission has been percolating for years. While in high school, she went on an exchange trip to Nigeria, where the group helped build a maternity clinic. She has donated to refugee relief through her church. And, while doing therapy with the Maryknoll missioners, she has heard many descriptions of their ministries and the challenges they faced.

Peake says her concern for the Afghan refugees, especially those who had assisted the United States, sprung from seeing television news during the chaos as U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan. “I felt compelled to respond to the resettlement challenge,” she says.

She became an volunteer in assisting the Baseer family and a single woman (name withheld to protect her family still in Afghanistan). Peake not only serves as their part-time driver, she also recruited other volunteers to accompany them and located tutors to teach English as a second language. She also helped the organization itself, finding a lawyer to incorporate the Ossining group as a non-profit organization.

The Ossining for Refugees group includes nearby Pleasantville, Briarcliff and Croton-on-Hudson, plus Ossining, where the Maryknoll headquarters is located. There has been a great response from people of all faiths — Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and other Protestant denominations, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist — and even those with no faith affiliation.

“I find it heart-warming that people from so many different faiths have become selflessly involved in this important task,” Peake says. “It has deepened my appreciation for the commandment ‘Love Your Neighbor.’ ”

Kathie O’Callaghan of the Westchester Refugee Initiative says they oversee 15 local groups and count on some 200 volunteers. Since October 2021, more than 70 Afghan refugees have been resettled around Westchester County, and the number continues to go up.

This outpouring of good will has extended to the Maryknoll membership itself. In the last six years Maryknoll priests and brothers have donated about $100,000 from their own personal means to a half dozen refugee resettlement groups in New York and Connecticut. Originally for Syrian refugees, the funds are now also used to help Afghan refugees in the United States. The Maryknoll Society itself recently donated $10,000 to help resettle refugees locally. 

Even as refugees find safety in their new communities, they carry with them trauma of what made them flee and worries about those they left behind. “The woman I am helping says that she is wracked with worry about her parents still in Afghanistan,” Peake says. “At times she has difficulty sleeping at night. Her parents don’t have enough money or food, and because they do not read or write it is difficult to communicate with them, except on the rare occasion when a telephone call actually gets through.”

Peake continues, “The Afghan people who worked for the United States in Afghanistan did so at risk to their lives and families, and I want to give back and help them as best I can.” 

Sally Peake is a great example of a person of faith who believes God has invited her to a higher calling — and Maryknoll believes that there are countless more people of good will with that calling.

Featured image: Maryknoll Brother Andrew Marsolek is assisted by physical therapists Cathy Kane (left) and Sally Peake (right), who also helps resettle Afghan refugees. (Courtesy Sally Peake/U.S.)

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About the author

Frank Breen, M.M.

Maryknoll Father Frank Breen, from Boston, Massachusetts, served in Kenya for almost 30 years. Currently he works with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.