GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Now, Freshta Tori Jan is a 20-year-old Calvin University sophomore studying political science and pre-law. But she was born near the border of Iran and came to Grand Rapids in 2015 after her father died.
Her family and ailing mother remain in Afghanistan.
She tears up talking about the difficulty of staying in touch with her family, who are always being watched.
She said the persecution of her family is both ethnic and religious. Her parents were tortured, and friends were killed. When she was in the eighth grade, the Taliban shut down her school.
“I wasn’t going to let that be the end of my dreams. I did not want to end up like my cousins — married off to someone who is 30 years older than me,” Tori Jan said.
She said she was appalled by the actions of the society in Afghanistan where women, in particular, have a dismal future, and she would have had no choice but to produce children and domestic servitude.
“I wanted to make change, there is just so much injustice to be fought every day in so many systems,” Tori Jan said.
She stays here with a family and she attended Grand Rapids Christian High School. She says when she feels tired or overwhelmed, she finds inspiration in her birth-land.
“I ask myself, ‘who am I doing this for?’ and then I remember that I am trying to carry on the fight for my friends who never got to make it alive, who never got to go to school, but also for my parents,” she said.
In March, she had to leave the dorms because of coronavirus and had clothes she was going to donate to Goodwill but couldn’t.
She also saw the plight of the homeless hit particularly hard by the illness.
“It really touched my heart, and I really wanted to do something. But I didn’t know what, so I was like why not make masks?” Tori Jan said.
One of the homemaking skills that girls in Afghanistan are required to learn is sewing. She used her time to put that skill to use and make the masks that allow for filters to be changed.
She decided to go beyond simply donating the masks to a homeless shelter. She wanted to make personal connections with the people she was helping.
“That way, I’m able to get to know them but then also see how else I can help them,” said Tori Jan.
That mission has grown, and she sells the masks as well as hair accessories and makeup bags to people who want them. The profit then goes to helping people with basic needs and helping them connect with resources.
“They all have different dreams just like me, just like so many other people,” Tori Jan said.
She created a website sewtrueproducts.com, which has the motto: “Immigrants. We get the job done!”
On the site, customers can buy products or donate them to help the homeless.