A princess’s plea sparks Milford club to aid Afghan refugees

MILFORD — Alia Seraj’s continued plea for aiding Afghan refugees coming into Connecticut sparked action from one local organization.

The Milford Rotary Club, which hosted Seraj, a city resident and herself Afghan royalty, at a recent lunch, recently donated $6,000 to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) to benefit refugees from Afghanistan. And Club President Carrie Reed said the passion in Seraj’s words prompted the fundraising effort.

“I invited Alia because she is an advocate for the Afghan refugees,” Reed said. “We chose to donate to IRIS because we have worked with them before.

“Everybody was impressed with her, and they were like we need to help these people ... it was just an immediate desire to help,” Reed added. “One of our members remembers Alia as a little girl because they were neighbors.

Seraj, a Milford resident, is Afghan royalty — her father was Prince Abdul Ali Seraj and she is a descendant of generations of Afghan kings. She recently spoke at a Milford Rotary lunch, talking about how deeply personal it was for her to watch the Taliban recapture Kabul and thousands of Afghans scrambling to escape that group’s tyranny.

Seraj also described her efforts to help Afghan refugees and how she has received hundreds of messages from those seeking assistance and those desperate to aid her efforts.

“At the very next board meeting, we discussed how we wanted to go about this,” Reed added. “We had a budget line for international care, and the budget line was $3,000, and we decided right then and there to take $2,000 to give to IRIS. Then we were going to ask that our club match it by another $2,000, and that’s when things got exciting. People were donating anywhere from $10 to $500.”

Seraj was born in the United States after her family escaped Afghanistan, but her culture was always present growing up. Now, as an adult, Seraj has been working to help Afghan refugees who are seeking assistance.

The Milford Rotary invited IRIS head Chris George to come and speak at one of their lunch events to present him with the $6,000 donation.

“He was telling us about the community need and how the greater need is housing for the refugees,” she said. “Housing for several months, because they are coming with no clothing, no jobs, might not know English, they have nothing. And maybe they have a master's in engineering, and they are only going to get a dishwasher or a simple and low-paying job. So they are now looking for communities and organizations pulling together to support a family.”

“What Chris George was telling us, which I find amazing and inspiring, is refugees are so grateful to be given this opportunity that they hit the ground running to figure out a way to be independent and self-sustained,” Reed continued. “They do accept the help, but usually within three of four months, they don’t need help anymore, and they might have three or four children.”

The initial plan was to have the Rotarians raise $2,000 to match the $2,000 the Milford Rotary had already decided to donate to IRIS. As time went on, the total kept on increasing because of how much the Rotarians were donating.

“The pandemic changed our club, as everything has changed, and our club size shrunk quite a bit, but the generosity opened up in ways I have never seen,” Reed said. “Last year, I would set a goal for something such as $250 Toys for Tots, and we would end up with $500, or I would put out a goal for Polio Plus as $250, and we would end up with $1,000. It’s amazing.”

There were some members of the Milford Rotary who weren’t at the lunch where Seraj spoke, but Reed made sure everyone was in the loop with the number of emails she would send out updating how far they were from their overall goal.

“I sent an email saying we were $334 off our goal of $4,000 and someone sent in a check for $500 and someone else for $250, and I said well our goal is $5,000. So I would update and put that out there through email,” she said.

During the Milford Rotary lunches, they have something called Do Good, which people pay, usually $1, to announce something that happened to them during the week.

“When I said we were $75 off from the $6,000, there were several people who started putting money up, and we reached our $6,000 goal,” Reed said.

When they finally presented the check to George, Reed said it was heartwarming and rewarding.

“I’m just the person who presented the check, but it was a great feeling for everyone,” she said. “And I know we are going to do it again, but in some other direction.”