AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than a year since the Afghanistan pullout crisis and less than a year since the war in Ukraine began, two Austin high school students have fundraised to help refugee families integrate in Central Texas.

Yara Hussain and Stewart Haas, a senior and junior at Headwaters School, helped raise money to purchase sewing machines for four refugee families. The items were distributed on Sunday at Global Impact Initiative’s headquarters, a nonprofit whose work includes integration resources for incoming refugees.

Yara Hussain, left, and Stewart Haas, are two high schoolers at Headwaters School who fundraised to purchase sewing machines for local refugees. (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)

It’s not Hussain and Haas’ first introduction into global politics and work with refugee communities. Haas came up with the idea of physical donations here in Austin after seeing issues with getting monetary donations to families in Afghanistan during the emerging crisis in August 2021.

“Sewing machines are how [Afghan women] make their living and they make their kids clothes, how they basically function and make not only stuff for themselves, but also sell stuff,” he said. “So providing sewing machines would help them basically get a foot into the United States and basically making money so that they can just better their lives.”

Haas and Hussain said the two collaborated on bake sales to raise proceeds for the sewing machines, while also spreading awareness for global events to their fellow classmates.

“We wanted to keep it local,” Hussain said. “So refugees in Texas right here on the ground, rather than overseas, just because of the sanctions and the Taliban rule, it will be really difficult to reach them.”

While much attention has been spent on refugees’ initial entry into the United States, Hussain said there’s a lot of public awareness that needs to be done for what comes next and the challenges that come with entering a new culture while dealing with the traumas of resettlements.

She reflected on her own experience as a refugee coming to the U.S., and the challenges that came from integrating into new academic and social environments.

“You could be American and then you move from one school to another — that alone is difficult, just starting over and making new friends,” Hussain said. “But imagine you’re from a completely different side of the world. You’re moving, you might have trauma, and you’re relocating. You’re starting from nothing.”

Haas added racial biases and anti-immigrant sentiments can add further threat and stigma to refugees new to the community.

“I think the perception or the stigma that goes around them is a really detrimental impact on how they could make their lives here and how easy or difficult it is for them,” he said.

Haas and Hussain look to continue their fundraising efforts into the new year. Hussain has previously raised proceeds for Syrians and run clothing drives for Pakistanis and hopes to launch one for the people of Yemen next semester. Haas said as he heads into his senior year, he wants to stay globally engaged and keep his eye out for efforts that could use necessary attention and resources.

“The least we could do is show our support, our social solidarity with people on the ground protesting against this and starting fundraisers,” she said, with Haas adding: “Making sure people recognize that everything is connected is very important, so that they actually care. And when people care, they do something about it.”

Go to Global Impact Initiative’s website to learn more about the workplace and educational training it does for local refugees. You can also donate to the nonprofit through the website.