Refugee from Afghanistan Plants Legacy of Trees in Syracuse

The following story showcases one of The Corps Network's 2015 Award Winners. Mokhtar Mohammadi will be recognized as a 2015 Corpsmember of the Year at The Corps Network National Conference in February. More stories for our 2015 Award Winners can be found here.

Before coming to Syracuse, New York, Mokhtar Mohammadi was living with his younger brothers and sisters in refugee camps in both the Czech Republic and Iran. Originally from Afghanistan, Mokhtar’s parents are deceased. In their absence, he has taken on the role of providing for his family. While in Iran, Mokhtar was in high school, but also working in construction jobs and a photography studio.

Upon his family’s arrival in Syracuse this past January, however, Mokhtar’s educational and workforce options were very limited. The timing was not good for entering school, and Mokhtar needed to earn money for his family. Unfortunately, he struggled in the traditional job market because he was a newcomer and just beginning to learn English. Thanks to a referral from several collaborators of Onondaga Earth Corps, Mokhtar heard about the Corps and enrolled in March.

Mokhtar’s supervisor at Onondaga Earth Corps explains that “soon after his hire, Mokhtar began proving himself to be one of the most committed crew members the OEC has ever had. He is an extremely hard worker, capable of leadership and a trustworthy crewmember. As his supervisor I was very confident in assigning him important tasks with very minimal supervision… Despite English being his second language, Mokhtar was able to be productive during community outreach activities. His language ability started out very limited, but when he joined the Corps, his commitment to learning and adapting to new ideas has propelled him forward enormously.” 

Mokhtar has advanced to serving as a Crew Leader on the Corps urban forestry projects. He is known for his upbeat attitude, intelligence, willingness to help out others after his own work is done, and his jokes. He has become a role model for others and even gave an inspiring speech to the Corps summer youth program about the importance of the environment to young people. On Arbor Day, he also provided an environmental education program about trees to eighty 6th grade students at a local middle school.

“The Onondaga Earth Corps helped me very much in my personal life. It wasn’t just a job; it was a job and educational opportunity. My supervisors helped me get into college among many other things. In addition to job skills, I learned: life skills, team work, leadership skills, and lots of information about trees, tree identification, the environment, urban forests, the storm water system in Syracuse and more,” says Mokhtar.

Currently Mokhtar is still with the Corps, but he has also taken on an additional job and enrolled in Onondaga Community College. His family has now moved from a temporary residence into a stable home and has integrated well into the community.

His supervisor says that “If Mohktar chooses to stay in Syracuse, he will always be able to look back and see all the 1000+ trees he planted with Onondaga Earth Corps when he first arrived here in America and know he has had a major impact not only on our urban environment, but the community as well.”