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She was once a refugee. Now she helps others navigate their new lives in the United States

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DENVER — 'Holding space' for someone means to be with that person without judgment, to donate your ears and heart without wanting anything back, according to Psychology Today. Maryam Farhang appears to be a master at it. 

“It’s just so rewarding. I think maybe 50% is for the people I work with and 50% is for myself,” she explained with a laugh.

Farhang is a cultural navigator, someone who helps refugees adjust to life in a new country with different norms and values. “This is the only job where I can see the difference in people’s lives right away and I’m so grateful.”

Farhang contracts with various nonprofits across the Denver-metro area. She translates Dari, ab Afghan dialect of Farsi into English for people who had to leave Afghanistan after the United States completed its military withdrawal last year.  She also offers emotional support, and helps them through applying for food stamps, healthcare access, jobs and schooling. 

“I do this and that, and all sorts of things. My nose is everywhere,” she said explaining that sometimes the job has to get done outside of business hours. “I sometimes go to their houses which is why I sometimes work on the weekends or in the evenings because that’s when they’re available.”

Rocky Mountain PBS visited with Farhang when she was working at the African Community Center in Denver, an organization that helps resettle refugees from all over the world. She was translating for a caseworker and an Afghan mother of four who doesn’t speak English. 

“I do cultural orientation. Usually within 90 days, you have to know a little bit about American values, the culture, all the things that seem very ordinary for us that is such a hassle for them,” she explained.

Farhang does this work because she was once a refugee too. She arrived in Canada from Iran almost 36 years ago and has been living in the United States for 25 years. 

“I love this job. The texts that I get, the way I connect with people as if I’m one of them because I am one of them,” she said adding that the most fulfilling part of her job is the direct feedback she gets. “When someone calls me and leaves me message saying ‘Maryam! Today was my first job. Thank you for going to the interview with me.’ Or, ‘Today I passed an exam, thank you so much for helping me with the registration.’”

Farhang feels that this job keeps her grounded. 

“It gives you a different perspective about life. We live in a bubble, and we are not in touch with reality sometimes, that’s the way I feel,” she said.


Dana Knowles is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at danaknowles@rmpbs.org.

Julio Sandoval is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at juliosandoval@rmpbs.org.

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