In a two-bedroom home nestled in Broomfield, photos of an Afghan mountain range are freshly hung on the kitchen walls. A basket of halal-approved spices and snacks sits on the counter, and the closets are full of washed and ready-to-wear clothing.
And on Tuesday, the house will become a home to Afghan interpreter Ahmad Siddiqi, his wife and their four children. Ahmad served alongside Broomfield resident and Army veteran Scott Henkel during Scott’s deployment in Afghanistan. For months, Scott and his wife, Councilwoman Heidi Henkel, have been working to bring the Siddiqis to the United States.
While the Henkels haven’t heard the full story of the escape, they know the Siddiqis flew from Kabul to Qatar to Italy to Philadelphia to New Jersey.
On Tuesday, the six will take one last flight to Denver International Airport.
For more than a month, Heidi has coordinated donation efforts in preparation for the new Broomfield residents. The furnished home where the Siddiqis will stay is an AirBnB owned by a Broomfield police officer — who wants to remain anonymous — who offered Heidi the space at $500/month less than what he normally rents it for. The officer also donated an SUV for the family. The Broomfield community has donated bikes, dozens of toys for each of the kids, furniture, decorations and food to the family. The Children’s Center Preschool has offered the 3-year-old a free year, and the oldest two are enrolling in Meridian Elementary School. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has reached out to Heidi for translating employment opportunities for Ahmad.
“I’ve been completely blown away by people’s generosity. Just a reminder how good this community is in Colorado. People don’t know (Ahmad) they’ve never met him, they’ve never met us. We have folks showing up, I mean all of this, all of this is because of people’s generosity and folks that are wanting to help out another veteran that just happens to be born in a different country,” Scott said as he sat on the couch in the Siddiqi’s future home.
The Henkels watched the news unfold in August as Kabul fell to the Taliban, doing everything they could to stay in contact with the Siddiqis and get them out of Afghanistan safely. On Aug. 22, the Henkels agreed to share the story on Fox and Friends with the goal of spreading their pleas far and wide. On their drive back from the Denver filming station to Broomfield, Heidi received a Facebook message and an email from a man in the Marines who said he had to remain anonymous.
“It seemed really weird because he said, ‘I know some Marine Special Forces that need to know names on the ground,” Heidi said, and the man asked for the Sidiqqi family’s location and a phone number. “He wrote me back and said ‘OK, tell them to have their phone charged and only one bag.’ … I got chills.”
Ahmad was given a code word and he and his family — his wife, their 9-year old daughter, 8-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old daughter — trekked through sewage canals before ultimately making it to the airport. A few hours after Heidi’s exchange with the Marine, Scott received a text from Ahmad saying they were out.
The Siddiqi family’s arrival to Colorado went from feeling impossible to seeming feasible, though the Henkels assumed the process would take months. They learned last week Ahmad was waiting for one last round of paperwork, and they became hopeful for an Afghan-American Thanksgiving this year.
The Siddiqis had a few other housing options, but Ahmad told the Henkels he wanted to move to Broomfield because the mountains reminded him of his home.
“He said, ‘Baby sis, when I get over there I’m going to learn all of your rules, and I’m going to teach the Afghans all of your rules and teach them so they can follow your rules,” Heidi said of Ahmad.
On Sept. 1, Heidi created a GoFundMe to provide things like housing security, transportation, food and support for the family as they adjust to their new life in America. As of Wednesday morning, the fundraiser has raised $22,200 from 248 donors. Multiple donators left comments welcoming the Siddiqis to Colorado and thanking Ahmad for his service.
“It’s been really glorious to see people come together and helping a family out. Because they know what it’s like to help a neighbor and this is what it’s like to help someone who’s served our country. It’s just a family that’s in need,” Heidi said. “It’s been this outpouring of love.”
Heidi said Broomfield residents who are Muslim or speak Farsi have come out of the woodworks. They’ve helped her shop for appropriate clothing and food and talked on the phone with the Sidiqqis to make them feel welcomed.
“Everyone’s learning and taking a humble approach to this knowing he served our country and protected not only my husband but many others,” Heidi said.
While Ahmad could’ve left at any point during the past few years — and despite Scott pleading with him to leave — Scott said Ahmad chose to stay because he wanted to rebuild his country. While Ahmad is disappointed in the Afghan government, he’s excited for a new chapter in Broomfield.
“His comment to us was, ‘the United States did everything they could. My country didn’t step up. I’m ready to be an American,’” Scott said.
Heidi said the Broomfield Community Foundation, the city and county of Broomfield, A Precious Child and The Refuge are meeting Monday to talk about how to best coordinate efforts.
It’s estimated the state of Colorado will welcome roughly 800 refugee families in the coming months. Heidi said Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains is looking for host families and teenage buddies to help with the resettlement processes For more information , visit lfsrm.org/afghan-refugees/.