Local group helps refugee children feel at home

Friday President Biden approved millions of dollars in emergency funds to resettle Afghan refugees.
One group is helping refugee children right here in Houston.

Eleven-year-old Zohra has been in Houston for less than a year after leaving war-torn Afghanistan. 
"It’s this one, that dark pink," she says, pointing out a brightly painted flower on a wooden panel that leans against an apartment’s brick wall.

"Every day we’re learning different things," she says. 
Zohra is painting alongside children from around the world, but most of them come from her home country.

CHAT, Culture of Health- Advancing Together, offers them extracurricular programs meant to build physical and mental health in immigrant and refugee families.
"One of the ways we do that is through art expression," explains CHAT program coordinator Sarah Sdringola.

Local artist Amy Malkan is helping them spruce up their apartment courtyard with a wellness-themed mural.

"They got to decide all the sports that they wanted to feature. We had to have cricket; that was a must. Then we had a girl in a wheelchair playing basketball. We have volleyball. We have football and soccer," says Malkan.

"This is their home, so I want them to take care of it and have ownership over the space that they live in," she adds.

The mural is one of many CHAT projects in the works as Houston prepares for an increase in Afghan refugees.  

President Biden announced $100 million in additional aid for victims of conflict as U.S. troops plan to clear out of Afghanistan by the end of August.

"Some of [the children] moved here last week from Afghanistan," says Sdringola.

"It’s usually their parents that are refugees; sometimes it’s directly the kids that are refugees and that are immigrants. They come here to Houston for better opportunities," she says. 

Their escape from violence has put them on a new path of activities and ESL classes, but before they master the English language, the children learn expression through paint colors.

"Ms. Amy is always saying, ‘Art is never failing. Art is for everybody," says Zohra.

"Some of these kids do not speak English but they understand art," adds Malkan.  
Councilman Edward Pollard was in attendance at the ribbon-cutting held Thursday where CHAT also unveiled its collaboration with another local artist Thaddaeus Arvie called "All Hands In". The projects were funded by Houston LISC and 1st Choice Accident & Injury. 

The final mural, six colorful panels panned out over their apartment’s courtyard was named "Together We Play" and stands to welcome more refugees to their new home in a new country where they hope to find a brighter future.