Mobilizing to help Afghans in need – VCU News

While reports of the chaotic departure of the US military from Afghanistan and the people who fled the country have mostly vanished from the headlines, the University’s Afghan-born students and graduates of the Commonwealth of Virginia continued to educate and assist their Afghan compatriots in need. .

For Yasameen Anwari, a 21-year-old junior who studies health, physical education and exercise science in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban touched very close to home.

“It’s a sad situation because, while I was born here, my parents are refugees who came from Afghanistan and immigrated in the 1980s. It’s like this is all happening again and it’s hard to see your parents. live this twice, ”Anwari said. “It was very difficult to constantly see my parents’ country on the news 24/7. It wreaks havoc on you. I was anxious and my mental health was not very good.

As president of the Afghan Student Organization VCU, Anwari mobilizes a group of around 200 members to raise awareness of the challenges facing Afghans, those who have recently arrived in the United States, and those who have lived here for decades.

Over the years, Anwari and the group of students have raised funds and donated thousands of dollars to Help Afghanistan for education, receive thank you notes and photos of beneficiaries, girls who for years had been denied an education.

More recently, the student group has stepped up its efforts to help those suffering in Afghanistan as well as the tens of thousands of Afghans the US military has brought here, many of whom remain at military bases like Fort Lee nearby. Many members of Afghan student organizations attended protests in Washington this summer to publicize the turbulent events in Afghanistan and show people care about the country. They regularly post on social media to other refugee aid organizations, such as the International Rescue Committee, to let their own subscribers know how to help. Anwari and her leadership team from the Afghan student organization – bioinformatics student Rida Jamal, anthropology student Sadef Osmanza and biology student Waris Bahrami – also raised funds to buy winter clothes for Afghan refugees staying at a military base in Wisconsin.

This is not the only group on campus working to help the Afghan people. On October 8, the Muslim Student Association of VCU organized and hosted a charity kickball tournament for Afghans in need, working with the Afghan Student Organization, RVA Cares, Penny Appeal USA and United 2 Heal to collect $ 1,040 for Afghan families in need of food. parcels, water, hygiene kits, shelters and other necessities. Members of the VCU Student Veterans Association have worked to raise donations for those temporarily housed at Fort Lee and Fort Pickett, and faculty and students at the School of Dentistry are creating dental supply kits for the refugees.

Leadership is a source of trust

The desire to help extends beyond the campus. At the end of August, VCU graduates and former presidents of the Organization of Afghan Students, Nazaneen Anwari (Yasameen’s sister) and Yousef Nikzai, used their medical and language skills to volunteer at the Dulles Expo Center as staff. medical, sorting the Afghan evacuees to ensure they were stable enough. to go to their next location.

Nikzai, a medical student at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine and founder of the Afghan Student Organization, spoke directly to the Afghans evacuated by the US military, helping them through what continues to be a shocking experience and traumatic. He helped a 13-year-old boy who, while protecting his mother from the Taliban, was shot in the arm.

“I was able to connect and take care of the patients,” said Nikzai, who, like Yasameen Anwari, grew up in Northern Virginia, which has a large community of Afghans. “I think it was a little easier for me to take care of the patients and to sympathize with them compared to the other providers who were there.

“These people have left everything they own and love in their home. Many of them have left their husbands. Some kids came without their parents, so they just wanted someone to talk to, to let them know that everything was going to be okay, that they are safe and that we will take good care of them.

Nazaneen Anwari, graduated in May from the Business school and currently working as a pharmacy technician and medical assistant, joined the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps when she learned the government needed translators to help communicate with refugees.

“It was crazy and very chaotic [at Dulles Airport], “she said.” But it was beautiful to see how strong these people were, despite everything they had been through. They were so full of hope to come to the United States for a better future, even though their hearts were heavy. “

Moved to lead and inform

Nazaneen Anwari’s involvement with the Afghan student organization left a deep mark on her.

“It shaped me as a person and I feel like being welcomed and accepted by everyone around me has really shaped who I am and will be in the future because I have developed that confidence. in me and this acceptance of my identity and myself, ”she said. “I am now able to be fully myself and serve others. “

“These people have left everything they own and love in their home. … They just wanted someone to talk to, let them know that everything was going to be okay, that they were safe and that we will take good care of them.

Youssef Nikzai

This summer, after the US military pulled out of Afghanistan, Nazaneen Anwari joined other young Afghan American professionals – many of whom are recent VCU graduates like Nikzai and Aneil Tawakalzada, who received his bachelor’s degree from VCU and is now a medical student at Nova Southeastern. University – to put their concerns into action. they formed OneAfghanistan, a website to provide information to those who wish to help.

“We were all so eager to get involved to make a difference, but we didn’t know how to do it,” Tawakalzada said. “You would see it all over social media. Everyone wanted to give back.

“We were seeing a lot of people posting a million different things, all over social media – ways to help and different fundraisers you can donate to and so on,” Tawakalzada said. “It was confusing because there was a ton of information all over the place. It was hard to follow, but even more so, you couldn’t tell how legitimate some things were. People were so desperate for it. involve and donate to places or donate clothes or whatever. “

OneAfghanistan’s social media posts have garnered tens of thousands of views from people looking for this information. Tawakalzada and other OneAfghanistan leaders are helping make sense of all the information, using their website as a clearinghouse for information on charities, ways to help refugees, protests, petitions and links to mental health professionals who speak Dari, Pashto and Farsi. Tawakalzada said they felt they were making a difference. And OneAfghanistan continues to help Afghans settle down by offering mentorships, creating scholarships, and delivering workshops on resume writing and job interviews.

Responding to a humanitarian crisis

In order to continue to raise awareness of the current needs in Afghanistan and of the newly arrived Afghan refugees, the Organization of Afghan Students will organize a Night in Afghanistan December 3 event at VCU with all proceeds going to the Richmond office of the International Rescue Committee, an organization that helps people affected by a humanitarian crisis.

“We showcase the beauty of Afghan culture and will hold a fashion show featuring traditional Afghan clothing, Afghan dance performances and performers such as a woman reciting Afghan poetry and a flute player,” Yasameen Anwari said. . “A local Afghan restaurant in Richmond called Afghan Cuisine will provide food.”

Yasameen and Nazaneen Anwari are motivated to continue raising awareness of the plight in Afghanistan and hope the information provided by their groups inspires others to join us in addressing humanitarian issues.

“Whenever there is an injustice, if someone witnesses it, they have to stand up and speak out. Because at the end of the day we are all human and we can all help each other, ”said Nazaneen Anwari. “Otherwise, nothing will change in the world.

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