By Leader Dr. Joe Chuman
If you save one life…you save the world -Talmud
As we witness horrors across the globe, refugee flight, wars, and famine, we often ask ourselves what we can do living so far away.
Here is a story of what several talented and devoted people in the New York area have been doing to save the lives of five imperiled Afghan girls. Great news just arrived overnight.
A former president of the New York Ethical Society, whom I greatly admire, and whose dedications I value, has been working for the past 15 years to assist Afghan girls and women who have lived under the oppression of the Taliban regime. Knowing of her work, I asked what her latest efforts have entailed.
She described the plight of five Afghan girls, who fled Kabul after the recent re-takeover of their country. These girls are extremely talented and winsome. Three are music students and one is an aspiring scientist, ages 15 to 18.
Their music school was destroyed by the Taliban, and they were able to flee to Islamabad, Pakistan, leaving their families behind. They have been living in a safe house, but their circumstances remain unstable.
They have wanted to come to the US.
After I was in contact with my friend, we were able to organize a phenomenal team committed to rescuing these girls. Among those helping with the effort are a former administrator in the state department who has worked at the embassy in Pakistan, and a documentary filmmaker who has lived in Kabul and has produced documentaries about Afghanistan. We five have created a new non-profit organization, Afghan Girls Rising, to assist other imperiled girls in the future. In addition, we have the active support of my partner, who manages a legacy fund with a progressive Catholic sister. The head of schools of the Studio School on the Upper West Side, of which my partner is also the president, has pledged to help out by providing ancillary educational support for the girls.
We have worked on this project very quickly. Our strategy has been to attain F-1 student visas for the girls to enable them to attend school in the United States.
Here is what we needed to do, all of which we have been able to very efficiently accomplish:
- We were able to identify two private schools on Manhattan’s East Side that have been vetted to accept international students. The girls were interviewed via Zoom, and all were accepted by these schools, tuition-free!
- We have located host families in Manhattan who have volunteered to provide hospitality and nurturing support to the girls in their homes.
- With the help of my partner’s fund and other donations, we have collected ample resources to pay for initial costs for visas, their flights, and other ancillary expenses.
- I have secured the New York Ethical Society as an initial conduit to receive donations allowing for tax deductions.
- Perhaps most formidable was filling out the paperwork required directly by the government.
- Three of the girls had their visa interviews yesterday, and the remaining two will be interviewed on August 18th.
- I yesterday spoke with a staffer at Senator Cory Booker’s office, seeking the Senator’s assistance in contacting the embassy in advance of the visa interviews. In the past, the Senator’s office has been very helpful with asylum and refugee issues, when I have called on them. This time, the staffer went the extra mile. She requested detailed information about the girls and worked overtime to get the information to the embassy in Pakistan.
The news came early this morning. (Aug.4th) The three girls were granted their visas, and will soon be with us to start their new lives in New York!
I could not be more joyous or fulfilled.
This initiative brings to mind a famous story first attributed to the anthropologist and science writer, Loren Eiseley. It has been told in several variations:
A man is walking on a beach and sees and a young man throwing a stranded starfish back into the sea. He approaches the young man and says to him, “There are many miles of beach and hundreds of stranded starfish. What difference could saving the starfish possibly make?” In response, the young man picks up another starfish, hurls it back into the ocean, and replies, “It makes all the difference to this one.”
In these times when we may feel consumed by the challenges that the world imposes on us, it is good and necessary to recall the message behind this simple tale. We need to keep our spirits up.