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Jayhawks Give Back

Helping refugees adjust is personal for this KU alumnus

After Ahmad Baset Azizi’s family came from Afghanistan to the United States and began adjusting to their new lives, he wanted to give back and help other refugees do the same.

Baset left his home country of Afghanistan to come to the United States, and later the University of Kansas, in part due to his skills on the trumpet. But when most KU seniors are focused on finding a job and wrapping up their education, Baset, u’22 c’22, was also balancing the future of his own family.

When Afghanistan’s government collapsed in August 2021, Baset’s senior year at KU was spent finding a way to get his family to safety. Today, Baset lives with his family in Overland Park. “They are grateful,” he says, “Grateful to be safe and to have these opportunities to be with me, because I hadn’t seen them in seven years. I left Afghanistan [to go to high school in Michigan] when I was 16, and now I’m 23.”

Ahmad Baset Azizi

By the time Baset graduated, he had added degrees in political science and global and international studies to go along with music. “I’m grateful for my time at KU because it helped me develop skills for my job today, but also my critical thinking, writing, speaking, some of the most important skills you can learn,” he says.

After graduation, Baset put his life experiences and learned skills to work by helping refugees adjust to life in the U.S. He volunteered his time as an interpreter at Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and Jewish Vocational Service of Kansas City.

“After the political changes in Afghanistan, I saw our fellow Afghan people needed support, so I wanted to see how I could give back,” Baset says. “I enjoyed that work. I never thought I’d do interpretation and work with refugees, but here I was because I wanted to help in any way.”

Today, Baset works full-time as refugee asset development manager at Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. He meets with clients to talk through their transitions and provide financial literacy resources and support.

“Once I started, I saw how many people really appreciated it,” Baset says. “They wanted to talk with me and trusted me since I’d been in America since 2016 and we share similar culture, language and experiences. They wanted my ideas.”

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Baset is a quick learner. He was often his own teacher, especially with learning financial literacy.

“I learned all these things by myself, how to build credit, use a credit card, while I was a student at KU. I was using online resources like YouTube to learn.”

His work has proven to be an invaluable resource as refugees adjust to life in the U.S. Helping clients manage financial issues such as finding housing, opening a bank account and applying for credit cards can be unfamiliar and overwhelming. While he can, and does, provide financial assistance in his role, Baset finds connecting with, supporting and teaching clients the most rewarding part. 

Baset recalls a particular client meeting that ran for four hours, with the two of them discussing his thoughts and experiences about education and getting a PhD. Afterwards, the client told Baset “‘You are a blessing. You are a light in my life because you opened a new world to me today. I am so happy that I met you today. I was a servant, but you made me believe that I can be king.”

“He had a different mindset about what he could do in life after talking with him,” Baset says. “That’s so powerful. It’s a great feeling for anyone to see you are making a difference in someone’s life, either by educating them on how to do it, or just sharing your time and what you have learned.”

Our Jayhawks Give Back program, presented by Andrew Wymore, Realtor, celebrates ’Hawks who are making a difference in ways big and small. Each quarter, we’ll feature a member of the KU family and their story. If you know a Jayhawk who should be featured in Jayhawks Give Back, let us know!

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