Ahmad Kambiz Hekmati has spent most of his adult life helping others in his native Afghanistan. Now, displaced from the land he called home for 40 years, Hekmati seeks an opportunity to create a better life for himself and his family of six in the city they’ve called home since 2017.
The soft-spoken Hekmati, 42, graduated from university in 1999 with a degree in diplomacy and used his education to start a career working for nonprofit aid organizations. He worked his way from an entry-level job to the position of provincial manager, providing support to five different project sectors with more than 100 staff members.
His responsibilities for groups such as Doctors Without Borders and ActionAid International entailed finance, accounting, human resources and project management. Hekmati’s work took him to workshops and field visits throughout Europe and Asia, and his time with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) raised his public-facing profile.
That’s when the trouble started. Anti-government members of the Taliban saw his face in the media and tied Hekmati and his work to the U.S. government. His family started receiving threats by phone, and he and his wife, Maria, were terrified to learn of the possibility that their children might be kidnapped.
Hekmati knew there was only one solution. He consulted with the U.S. Department of Defense and was granted a Special Immigrant Visa. He and his wife gathered their family, said goodbye to their comfortable life in Afghanistan and the home they lived in with his parents, and fled to America.
"It was really hard for me and for my wife to leave, but we didn’t have a choice. We had to come to a place to save our lives," Hekmati says. "We knew we would begin from zero, and we have to try and work hard and smart there to make something for ourselves."
Despite his education and almost 20 years of experience, Hekmati had trouble finding professional work in Texas. Hekmati, who speaks strong conversational English, believes the language barrier served as his biggest impediment to obtaining a job, so he took an evening job working desk security at a corporate office and focused his daytime studies on accounting and honing the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) he identifies as universal.
"I wanted to be self-resilient. I didn’t want to be a burden for others to provide some sort of assistance to me," Hekmati said of taking a security job.
Hekmati earned a certificate in accounting from Austin Community College and passed the voluntary certification exam from the National Bookkeepers Association. He hopes to use those skills to get a job working in accounting, preferably with an aid organization, and has even volunteered his services to get a foot in the door and help others as he has done in the past.
Maria Hekmati, 42, has learned to drive, continues to improve her English and hopes to eventually attend nursing school, all while helping raise their four children, who have assimilated admirably to their schools and new culture.
Ahmad Kambiz Hekmati remains hopeful for the chance to improve his family’s life using the skills he has acquired over the last 20 years of hard work.
"I’ve found that Austin has the potential for growth and development, and I realized that if someone has the effort, there is more opportunity," Hekmati says.
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