Welcoming Taqi Shirzad to Our Commercial Plumbing Division

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Vito Services Commercial Plumber Edwin Garcia, who grew up learning and working in the trade with his stepfather, has worked with several plumbers in his time at Vito. When he was told his newest partner would be an Afghan refugee who spoke little to no English, Garcia was unfazed.
"I watch a lot of plumbing videos from all over the world," said Garcia, who recently graduated from the Craftmasters Trade School Academy. "Plumbing is a universal language and if you speak it, we can work together."
Vito Services has hired Mohammad Taqi Shirzad as a Plumber in the company's Commercial Plumbing Division.

Shirzad is a Dari-Speaking Afghan refugee who was a plumber in his native Afghanistan. Shirzad began his career working for Juma Noori LTD in the Afghan capital of Kabul, before working as a subcontractor for some of the larger construction companies in and around the city.

The Shirzad family arrived in Bethesda, MD, in December of 2021. They are thankful for the welcoming and supportive community that has helped them settle in their new country.

Much of that support has stemmed from an initiative begun by The Bethesda Metro Area Village (BMAV), a community organization made up of mostly retirees. A group of BMAV members formed an interest group last year that explored the possibility of welcoming an Afghan refugee family into the community. They eventually connected with the Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA), which identified the Shirzads as a family in need of support.

Once they committed, the group was given two weeks to get Shirzad's apartment ready. They were given a list of necessities for the young family and were able to set up the apartment quickly through donations and the help of another organization, A Wider Circle, which works with furnishings for refugees and the homeless.
"We had two weeks to mobilize and get their apartment ready," said Sandra Foote, a BMAV volunteer. "We also thought we were getting an English-speaking family but that wasn't the case."

In addition to raising substantial funds to help the Shirzads pay rent and afford preschool and medical bills, the BMAV set up social networks and support system sub-groups groups to help with the family's integration process: English tutoring, Transportation, Education, Furnish and Move, and the Welcome Group. The group still meets on Zoom once a month to discuss ongoing support and issues.

Almost nine months since they settled in Maryland, the Shirzads are continuing to make progress and have been adjusting as best they can to their new surroundings.

Taqi's wife, Ziba, gave birth at Holy Cross Hospital to a daughter, while their oldest son is enrolled in an ESSOL program at a local Kindergarten where over 90 different languages are spoken.
Taqi noted that school in Afghanistan is much different than here in the U.S. Children do not start school there until age 7. He also said the teachers here are much more friendly toward the children than they are in Afghanistan.

Ziba, who grew up illiterate in Afghanistan, is rapidly learning to speak, read and write English. She now has three at-home tutors per week. The tutors coordinate their lessons with online classes that Ziba is taking from Solutions for Hometown Connections, which offers classes designed specifically to help preliterate Afghan women (https://www.shconnections.org/our-story.html).

Taqi, who has a driver's license, drove himself to his first interview at Vito Services. While his English-speaking is a work in progress, Taqi was still able to impress Vito with his love of plumbing, knowledge of the trade, and his warm smile.

"Everyone here loves Taqi," said Vito Services COO Jim Vito. "He is a hard worker with a good attitude, who also happens to be a great plumber."

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Taqi, who is currently enrolled in a plumbing class at Montgomery College, said he is "very happy" working at Vito Services and enjoys the job and the people. So far, he has done several jobs laying pipes, replacing fixtures, installing water heaters, and repairing pipelines.

"I enjoy it all because I am a plumber," said Taqi. "This is my profession."

After learning on the job as a young plumbing helper, Taqi feels like he is going back to his roots, learning in the field once again. Combining that with his college plumbing class is speeding up his learning curve.
"It's really the best of both worlds, to learn on the job and learn in a class," said Taqi.


Garcia has now worked several jobs with Taqi and, with the help of Google Translator, is amazed at how much his English has improved.

"At first, I wasn't sure he understood anything, and he didn't talk much. But now he talks a lot more and he always wants to do the work. I think his favorite phrase is 'Let me do it,'" said Garcia laughing. "He loves to jack-hammer and loves to dig, which is great because digging has never been my favorite thing,"

The two plumbers have also bonded over a love of food, although with completely different tastes.
"We found a great Halal place where Taqi can get his lamb kabob and I can get falafel," said Garcia, who is vegan.
Having worked with Taqi now for several weeks, Garcia has seen major strides in not just his English but his plumbing skills and confidence.

"Plumbing is always the same properties just with different ways to get the job done," Garcia said. "No matter where you are, the main tenants of plumbing always stay the same: 'water flows downhill, hot left, cold right, need to vent.' Plumbers all speak the same language."

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Taqi, who began his career as an 18-year-old plumbing assistant in Afghanistan, said there are some differences between doing plumbing in Afghanistan and the U.S.

While a lot of the theories are the same, some of the appliances and materials are slightly different here (i.e. pipes in Afghanistan are all plastic and water heaters are all electric) and the system of laying pipe is different in the U.S. from what he first learned in his country. Taqi was also not familiar, and a bit surprised, by Touchless Fixtures and the internal solenoids that control those devices.

While the tools are essentially the same, there are differences. "Some of the tools here are pretty cool," Taqi said.
"What we've learned so far is that Taqi is a very hard worker," said Vito Services Plumbing Manager Anthony Vito. "He loves to work; he loves to dig and he always has a smile on his face."
As his English has improved, Taqi has become more comfortable in his new environment.

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While adjusting to life in a new country can be very difficult, especially when you have young children and don't speak the language, the Shirzads have found comfort in the neighborhood playgrounds, bike trails and Montgomery Country swimming pools. They recently attended the 2nd Annual Hazara Picnic at Black Hill Regional Park near Boyds, MD, where they reunited with several members of their Afghan community and danced and celebrated late into the night.

There are several hurdles for the Shirzads. While their English is improving, it is hard to navigate when they are not fluent in English and do not understand all conversations. Taqi and Ziba both came from large families who lived close together. While they do have friends who have also resettled here, they are spread out and it can be difficult to get together.

Still, the Shirzads are embracing their new lives here, even with all of the challenges.
"For a young family to come to a new country, where they don't speak the language is just so incredibly overwhelming," said Sandy Foote, from the Bethesda Group. "But the Shirzads are courageous and resourceful, and we just marvel at their fortitude and trust."

Foote the relationship between their families is just beginning. "Our relationships with this wonderful family will never end because we are friends," she said.

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