“Samira,* are you okay? Are you in danger?”
“After one hour the firing start.”
The messages came rapidly, a repetitious clanging of alerts, a dissonant sound alongside the staccato laughter and carefree clamor of my children in the next room. Seconds before, I sat with them, sun streaming through the windows while I lounged on the couch, my heart and home filled with joy, my breaths deep and long, and restful.
As I stood in front of the TV, I watched as the horror unfolded. The President of Afghanistan left his office and the Taliban began their swift takeover of the city. The screen displayed images of men in turbans, guns, running, smoke, chaos. My friend was located in the heart of Kabul.
Our messages were exchanged in rapid succession, each one with deeper desperation. Where are you? Are you safe? What do you hear? What are you going to do? Do they know who you are? Do you have supplies? Where’s your family? What about your baby?
Her baby—motherhood—a bond that tied us together.
I tried to fathom holding my baby while hearing gunfire.
Our messages before this day were mundane in nature, celebratory at times, joyful, and hopeful of a bright future. We exchanged congratulatory messages and celebrated milestones from across the world: marriage, the birth of children, business achievements, and more. Sometimes our conversations were simply “How are you!?” “Good.” “You?” “Fine.” And that’s it. Carry on.
I met Samira in 2018 through a women’s entrepreneurship exchange program that I participated in as a US mentor. Back then, I had never met anyone from Afghanistan and I was anxious as I watched the white van pull up from the airport. These women were business leaders and political activists from their country, with a bright and hopeful future under the new regime. I didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, my cultural lens blinded me in that moment of angst to the commonalities we’d share. We were women, daughters, sisters, mothers, business leaders, humans with ambitions, drive, passion, and hope.
Samira was my colleague’s direct mentee. Because of this, we spent a lot of time together the following week attending job shadowing, tours, interviews with business leaders and political leaders, seminars, classes, and more. We also spent time shopping, getting lost, driving, laughing, sharing meals, and relaxing in our homes.
Turns out, Samira wasn’t just a trailblazer, a mighty woman running a business and helping vulnerable women in her country, but she’s extremely witty and blunt, and this trait made for belly laughs and lasting memories.
Back then, I was a mentor. Now, I’m a lifeline. Before Samira, I didn’t know anyone from Afghanistan. Today, I am researching, emailing, writing, crying, pleading, toughening up, and working late into the night to scour through piles of documents, immigration, and refugee information, and daily (no, hourly) changing security alerts and safety instructions.
I can send a message instantly to her; I can reach her digitally in a millisecond. Yet, physically, we couldn’t be further away in these moments. This false sense of physical proximity feels like being separated by a layer of glass—we can see each other, hear each other, but I can’t reach her. I can’t pull her through the glass. I can’t bring her to the side that’s safe when she’s Just. Right. There. Next to me.
Everything is colored by this new reality. I hear a plane above me here in my peaceful neighborhood and I think of the sound of freedom, my friend being flown away, far from the chaos and terror.
I plead for this nation, these people because we are more alike than we are different. We share humanity, a deep longing to thrive, to prosper, to hope for a bright future, to see our children laugh and play with reckless abandon.
*Name changed for the protection of the individual.
Resources: How You Can Help Moms Like Samira in Afghanistan
Many people have asked me how they can help. Below is a compiled list of resources.
If you know someone at risk:
- If you are connected with an at-risk individual in Afghanistan and aren’t sure where to start, please see the information here.
- Here is a list of country relocation programs for at-risk individuals.
If you want to make your voice heard:
- Contact the White House by email through this contact form. Contact your senators, representatives, and elected officials and voice your concern and encourage them to support evacuation and safety efforts. Find your elected officials here. Each should have contact forms on their websites. Specifically, you can also ask them to support the following:
- Legislation increasing the number of Afghans eligible for the SIV and P-2 visas and to include women activists, activists for democracy, and those who maintained a free press in Afghanistan as qualified visa candidates.
- Legislation to allow Homeland Security to speed up the security and health screening process for SIVs and other at-risk nationals.
- Continued commitment by the Coalition Forces to support the Afghan people with food, shelter, and logistics during this challenging time – tied together with explicit criteria for the Taliban to support women and girls in health, welfare, education, and freedom.
If you would like to donate:
- (OKC-Based) Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women is an entrepreneurial program created by former First Lady Laura Bush with centers in Rwanda and Afghanistan. This organization is actively and tirelessly working with government officials to get at-risk Afghan women entrepreneurs and political leaders to safety.
- (OKC-Based) The Spero Project is an Oklahoma City non-profit organization that welcomes resettled refugees by connecting our new neighbors to people, resources, and learning opportunities that make Oklahoma City a place of belonging.
- International Refugee Assistance Project. The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.
- Neighbors in Need: Afghan Allies helps to provide food, housing assistance, clothing, and other basic needs as our Afghan friends await the official services available to them.
- Consider donating to The Lutheran Social Services National Capital Area to provide for transportation, temporary housing, and other immediate needs upon arrival. LSSNCA refugees are assigned a case manager through the Reception & Placement program which includes securing housing, home setup, meals, health screening, school enrollment, assistance with benefits, and more.
- Consider donating to Women for Women International. Since 2002, the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program has reached more than 127,000 women in five provinces in Afghanistan. They are actively working to secure and protect vulnerable women.
- Women for Afghan Women has been fighting for the rights of Afghan women for 20 years. Today, they are trying to help the women’s rights activists they work with throughout the country who are in extreme danger from the Taliban.
- One of the world’s largest humanitarian aid organizations, CARE has a long history of helping people in Afghanistan. In recent weeks, there has been a huge increase in the demand for emergency aid as many families have fled the Taliban. You can make a donation to support their humanitarian work in Afghanistan.
If you want to volunteer:
- (OKC Based) Host or financially support a vulnerable Afghan woman entrepreneur: The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women is working around the clock to bring as many eligible Afghan women to the U.S. as possible. This requires time, energy, resources, and partners like you. If you are interested, please contact IEEW at 405-943-4474 or [email protected]. Or, sign up to be an e-mentor: A key aspect of the IEEW program is mentorship. With the required shift to virtual learning, they will also need to increase the number of e-mentors who are willing to work with Afghan women.
- Sign up on a standby list and check the areas on the list that you’re interested in helping. Areas include everything from being a pen pal to foster care and legal Pro-bono volunteer services.
- Volunteer to open your home to refugees en route or already here. You can learn more and sign up through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
See A Mighty Girl’s reading list for young and mature readers about the lives of Afghan girls and women under Taliban oppression and in times of hope.