Photos and story by Emily Mesner

In September 2014,  Ezatullah, 38, and his wife Pashtoon, 35, traveled from Afghanistan to the United States with their sons, Basir, 17, Maiwand, 16, Janan, 11, Kawoon, 8, and Ehsanullah, 6, and their daughter, Khatera, 13. Together, they made the 6,800 mile journey in search of a more secure life.

Ezatullah worked for education and human rights campaigns in Afghanistan in hopes to help those in his country receive a better education. “This is not about the politics. I need to help these people,” said Ezatullah. As well as his campaign work, Ezatullah coordinated local and international media, and is a published poet and journalist. “I have a responsibility to my kids, myself, and my nation,” said Ezatullah.

Ezatullah was a very prominent public figure in Afghanistan, which caused the need to move due to a lack of security for him and his family.

“I was planning to go to Virginia to start work at a radio station. We got to New York and an International Organization for Migration representative said, 'No, you’re going to Lansing.'” Ezatullah had never heard of Lansing and quickly looked on his phone at the airport to learn more about the city. 

That night, they were taken to a small house which had holes scattered throughout the structure and water in the basement. They payed $700 per month, not including utilities. With no car, they walked 5-6 miles to get groceries.

“We didn’t sleep the whole night. We were scared. If you’re new here, you have no other options, no one to help you,” said Ezatullah.

The family currently lives in Lansing, Michigan, in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. “Here, I am nothing. There, I was something,” said Ezatullah.

“I have seen a lot of hard times in my life, but I don’t complain. Now I just think of my kids to have a better life. In this world, you have to fight to survive,” said Ezatullah.

His children are all exceeding in school, Pashtoon is taking English classes, and Ezatullah is working towards his undergraduate degree in political science as well as working at the Department of Human Services near Lansing.

“I enjoy it because this is for my family. The day will come that they will have a better life,” said Ezatullah.

Bio: Emily Mesner is a senior at Central Michigan University and is graduating in May of 2016 with a Bachelors of Science in Photojournalism and a Cultural Competency Certificate. She currently works as a photography intern at University Communications for Central Michigan University and freelances for the Midland Daily News. After graduation, Emily plans to start traveling both nationally and globally while working on long term documentary stories. 

Experience: This was my third and final time participating in the photojournalism workshop led by Danny Wilcox Frazier. Each year I have been pushed both physically and emotionally beyond what I thought I could handle. However, this year has been the most rewarding. I met two of Ezatullah's sons while on assignment over the summer at my photography internship and learned that they were from Afghanistan. After talking with them I became passionate to tell their story. This workshop gave me the push to pursue my passion and create a meaningful body of work with professional guidance. I started this workshop hoping they would accept me and understand what I was trying to do. By the end of the workshop, Ezatullah and his family accepted me into their lives and home and taught me the definition of strength and love. Over this short week, I have learned the importance of emotional connections between people and photographers. My favorite times during the week were when I set my camera down and spent time with their family. Pashtoon gave me her traditional Afghan dress to try on and take photos in, I played cards with Ezatullah, Basir, Janan, Kawoon, and Khatera, and I joined them trick-or-treating during their first Halloween. These are memories that I will cherish the rest of my life. Ezatullah helped me see the good in times of struggle and I am forever grateful that this workshop gave me the opportunity to meet a family so strong and full of hope.