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Immigration / Philadelphia / Thriving

Meet Ghulam Danish, an Afghan refugee seeking a ‘normal life’ in Philly

The Oxford Circle resident is working as a dishwasher, but wants more for himself and his family. Listen to his story in this installment of's Thriving audio series.

Ghulam Danish with his family. (Photo by Dominique Nichole)

This report is part of Thriving, a yearlong storytelling initiative from focused on the lived experiences of Philadelphia and comparative city residents. The goal is to generate insights about the economic opportunities and obstacles along their journeys to financial security. Here's who we're focusing on and why.

Ghulam Danish dreams of a normal life.

“It’s not a normal life that I’m living now. It’s not just me. It’s many of us,” said Danish, an Afghan refugee who came to Philadelphia in 2021. “A normal life would be having family time, having friends time, having a fun time. When you don’t have your Sundays off … Saturdays off, it means it’s not a normal life for me.”

Danish, his pregnant wife, and their young daughter were some of the more than 25,000 Afghan refugees who came to Philadelphia after the US withdrew its military forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban invaded Kabul.

The refugees have helped the city grow after decades of decline. Most arrived in the city knowing they would face a unique set of challenges — finding a home, a job, and a sense of belonging in a new country.

In Afghanistan, Danish had a well-paying job as a media analyst for a US-based company that provides security to government and corporate workers in areas where conflict might arise. He worked in an office, at a desk with a comfortable chair. He owned two homes and had plenty of free time to spend with his family.

Since he came to the US, he hasn’t been able to make a life anything like what he had in Afghanistan.

“As a refugee, as a newcomer here, people like me, we are just trying to survive, which is different from living.”Ghulam Danish

“As a refugee, as a newcomer here, people like me, we are just trying to survive, which is different from living,” Danish said.

He found a home in the Oxford Circle section of Northeast Philadelphia. A friend told Danish about an opening for a dishwasher in the cafeteria at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He applied and got it. He sometimes works six days a week — always in the evening.

“CHOP is a good place to work, but, for me,” Danish said, it’s not “where I have to be. I have to be somewhere in the office where I have experience.”

He’s been looking for a job in marketing. He has a master’s degree in business administration and eight years of experience in marketing strategies.

Danish connected with The Welcoming Center and Upwardly Global, nonprofits that help refugees establish themselves in a new country via skills like building networks, writing resumes, and preparing for interviews. But every time Danish has interviewed for a job in the past year, he’s been rejected.

“They are insistent that I’m overqualified,” he said. “They are saying I may work there for six months and then go for my ideal job, although I am telling them that ‘I will be working with you guys for a long time.’”

Danish still hopes to make a life here, and to do that, he needs a good job.

“That’s the first very important phase of getting established.”

These Thriving audio stories feature reporting by Nichole Currie and audio production by Rowhome Productions.

Series: Thriving

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