Four women share with us their daily lives in Afghanistan. Join them as they express their love for the country, the people, and each other; and as they share with you their deepest fears and most intimate moments.
They refuse to be silenced as they journey through this new, uncharted chapter in Afghanistan's history.
We at TSOS are honored to provide a platform for their voices to be heard. We will post entries as we receive them. For safety purposes, names have been changed and only avatars (designed with input from each woman) will be used.
Zoya is a survivor. Teacher and a single parent, Zoya remembers the days when the Taliban ruled and is watchful. She is determined, fearless, and strong.
Read as she shares her past, present, and her dreams for her girls' future.
Hasti is young, creative, and very close with her sisters. She dreams of becoming a successful doctor someday. A dream she hopes is still possible, despite recent changes in her country.
Strong and ambitious, Noor is determined to not let the Taliban bring her down. As the oldest child in the home, she is very protective of her sisters and feels responsible for everyone's safety and well-being.
Young and married to a lawyer, Baran has a curious nature. She loves to read and has made it a point to study the English language and literature. Currently awaiting a child, Baran is excited about her newborn, but also fearful of what the future has to bring to her new budding family
Lisa Campbell and TSOS
Lisa Campbell, project manager for the non-profit Do Your Part Refugee Community Center in Greece. Lisa combined efforts with multiple organizations to better the lives of refugees in the Delisi, Greece area. Lisa discusses the evolution of the growing refugee crisis and the millions who flee to Greece and Turkey.
Shurooq, Brandi Kilmer, Sherianne Schow, Nicole Taylor, and Sasha Sloan
Shurooq fled Iraq and came to the United States when she was 12. Iraq was a beautiful place full of family and celebration. Her brother passed away from leukemia 1 1/2 years prior to coming to the States. Prior to his death, their father took him to Syria to for treatment. He passed in Syria. Although the family had applied for a medical visa to the United States, upon Shurooq’s brother’s passing, they received threats and knew they could not stay. The call came for the visa and all but her mother were able to come. Thankfully her mother arrived a short time later. Life in Salt Lake City was very difficult. She experienced intense bullying, even by kids of her own culture and no community support. She was choked in the locker room, giving herself intense body issues. She suffered severe mental health issues, even near to the point of suicide…twice. With incredible strength, she made it through high school graduation and began attending Salt Lake Community College. She is now an advocate for refugees and for mental health. She is the Salt Lake Community Program Director for Their Story is Our Story. As of 2021, Shurooq participates in many lectures and events related to refugee advocacy. She is also studying to become a surgeon.
Yosuf and TSOS
Yosef and his family of four are from the Herat Province in Afghanistan. The eldest child used to sell potatoes with Ibrahim, the middle child, who was killed by a landmine planted by counter-revolutionaries. As a result, the eldest child, Ismail, developed severe nerve and mental issues, and the wife, who is now pregnant, frequently has seizures. They sold their home to treat Ismail, but doctors say nothing can be done. Ismail’s condition continues to worsen, but he refuses to leave to see a doctor because he is afraid of the police for an unknown reason. Yosef says he is afraid of the police as well because they may hang him to death.
When Yosef and his family arrived in Greece by ship, the Turkish police hit him because he was on the ship. Yosef describes his encounter with the Greek ships, and how the police hit the people on the back of their necks simply because they were afraid and did not do exactly as they were ordered.
Ziba, Sherianne Schow, Brandi Kilmer, and Heather Oman
Ziba, a promising medical student, fled Afghanistan in 2018 due to instability and for her safety. Life was difficult upon arrival in the United States. In Afghanistan Ziba was involved in national and international poetry, math and science competitions. Ziba went from having everything to starting completely over in a new country. Her anxiety and depression became extremely difficult to deal with She reminded herself who she was, what her passions were and in January 2019 started medical school while working part time as a cashier. Her hope for future arriving refugees is to have a mental health network established to fill the need she wished she had. Refugees “should feel proud of their bravery. Each person brings something special with them from their culture and their country. So my advice to every refugee is to take your time, and then stand up.
Rawah and Brandi Kilmer
Arif: "I like being in school again."
Norina: "We laugh a lot but I also worry."
Nooda: "I came on a boat. It was a big boat!"
Madina: "I just want to live in a safe place..."
Shurangez: "Sometimes we didn't feel safe at school."
Alex: "I'm from Nigeria. Coming to Italy was very difficult-very, very difficult, a real struggle."
Danial: "I want to be a useful person and follow my dreams."
Firoz: "I am 13 years old and I am worried about my family."
Ali: "Ali lived in Afghanistan. One day while walking to school a bomb exploded near him."
Kamil: It wasn't safe to stay, so Kamil and his family left Syria and went to a camp in Lebanon. They Stayed there for three years, hoping that the war would end and they could go back to their home.
Nadia: "Because of our religion and ethnicity, the government of Iran discriminates against us and will not allow us to study at a university, obtain a job, or to own a home."
Saedah: Left Syria among the eleven million Syrians who fled their home to leave war and find peace.
A Message to the World: These three boys fled violence and persecution in Afghanistan.
Husna: "I walked 3200 miles so I can go to school."
Aeham: Aeham had to leave Damascus to stay alive, and took a dangerous sea journey followed by a long walking journey to arrive in Germany.
Running Water: Now they wait in a refugee camp.
Omar: "When the Taliban came to our village, my mother took us into the mountains to hide for days. This happened many times."
Asma and TSOS
Asma is a teenager who fled from Myanmar after the army killed her uncle and her village was destroyed. She is now living in Cox’s Bazaar, married, pregnant, and trying to cope in a world where violence and rape are all too common.
Jorge Baron, Maria Kolby-Wolfe, Kristen Smith Dayley, Twila Bird, and TSOS
The Northwest Immigrant Rights Program has been around for 35 years, started in 1984 specifically to help Central American refugees during the mid-1980s, when they were fleeing civil wars. A pro-bono group of attorneys performing "direct legal representation", helping low income community members who are navigating different aspects of the immigration system. NWIRP also engages in "systemic advocacy" which attempts to change systems and policies revolving around asylum and immigration rights.
Januka and TSOS
After being raped by a soldier in Myanmar, Januka fled to Bangladesh with her father and later found out she was pregnant. She fears no one will want to marry her because she has been raped.
Marta and TSOS
Marta is a member of the support community for Central American refugees arriving in the southwest US. In this interview, Marta shares her own story of crossing the border at a young age with her daughter and her life in the US. Marta was self-employed for many years and later went on to serve in the US Army in Iraq. For the last 9 months, she and her husband Israel and son Josue have worked tirelessly to help make sure the current refugees arriving are cared for after they are released from detention centers and begin their lives in the United States.
Marta shares her perspective on the current refugee crisis in the United States. She speaks of how things have changed since she entered the country and how difficult it is to find any legal path to entry into the US, let alone citizenship or residency. Marta and her family make it their life’s work to help others start a new life and enjoy the privileges they have now gained.
Modina and TSOS
Modina fled Myanmar after experiencing and witnessing extreme violence, including the destruction of her village and the violent murder of her uncle by soldiers. She arrived in Bangladesh by boat after paying smugglers a large sum.
Nidar and TSOS
Nidar has been in Cox’s Bazaar for 8 months and works in Hope Hospital (the camp hospital) as a traditional birth attendant. In addition, she makes house calls to pregnant women throughout the camp who are fearful of hospitals due to past trauma and sexual torture. Nidar has two children and a husband who fell victim to war.
Rafi, Patra, and TSOS
Rafi and his family have been stuck on the border between Greece and Macedonia for almost four months. They made their way from Afghanistan, received certificates in Greece to help them on their journey, but were then stopped at the border of Macedonia. The Macedonians said that they were no longer allowing Afghans into their country. Now all they can do is wait and hope. In Afghanistan,Rafi was a military man. As a young man, he was a part of the Revolution army, but later was made a soldier for the Government Security of Kabul. During that time, he was tasked to catch and arrest deserters. Their families would come to him and ask why they were arrested, why they were taken and were treated asenemies. Rafi explains, “We had to. We were soldiers. We had to obey [the Commander].” When the Taliban came to his country, he took his family to Pakistan, where they lived for four to five years. They have suffered immensely. Rafisays, “We have a lot to say if there is anyone to listen to us."
Rohima and TSOS
Rohima was brutally raped and tortured by soldiers during an attack. After witnessing other women receive the same treatment, she fled Myanmar for Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Once there, she got married while pregnant as a result of the rape.
Shamshur and TSOS
Shamshur has been in Cox’s Bazaar for 8 months and works in Hope Hospital (the camp hospital) as a traditional birth attendant. In addition, she makes house calls to pregnant women throughout the camp who are fearful of hospitals due to past trauma and sexual torture. Shamshur has nine children and a husband who is in prison.
Shobika and TSOS
Shobika escaped Myanmar amid widespread chaos. After being separated from her husband and experiencing the kidnap of her two children, she was raped by soldiers and became pregnant. Her husband now rejects this child.
Ali and Twila Bird
At eighteen fate placed Ali and his family in the center of hostilities in northern Afghanistan. Warring militant factions killed hundreds of people in his village. Ali helped identify and bury dozens of his friends and neighbors in a mass grave.
We spent days and nights in the mountains and blocked on the borders. I crossed the mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan walking with my handicap. Then it took us another sixteen hours to cross the border between Pakistan and Iran, also in very high mountains of more than 2500 meters. The Iranian police were killing people on the borders. We saw people in the mountains who were dead—some from hunger, some were shot.
The rough terrain caused Ali’s plastic leg to break several times. He repaired it with sticks and duct tape but by the time he reached Greece—a journey of 4,900 km (3,045 miles)—he was in great pain.
Ali made it to Greece just as the Balkan route closed, which blocked his progress to central Europe. He stayed in two refugee camps—one on the island of Lesbos, the second near Athens where he quickly formed friendships with other residents and volunteers, chief among them Bilal, another Afghan refugee. Bilal accompanied Ali to Athens the day he was fitted with a new, state- of-the-art prosthetic leg, which was purchased by a generous donor.
*Ali's story is featured in the publication Let Me Tell You My Story
Jeanusnat and TSOS
Jeanusnat’s father, who was chief of a Nigerian community, was murdered by an enemy community. The murderer intended to kill Jeanusnat and his mother as well, but they fled to neighboring Niger. There, Jeanusnat parted ways with his mother, who stayed at the church with a family, and Jeanusnat crossed into Libya in the back of a truck. But once in Libya, danger persisted. He was confronted by some robbers who stabbed him with a knife and beat him, leaving injuries on his legs and shoulder. In Tripoli, a man offered him temporary refuge, where Jeanusnat stayed until he decided to travel to Italy by boat.
But today, in Italy, life remains harsh since Jeanusnat is undocumented and lacks access to medical facilities and other important resources. “I’m facing too much difficulties. So many challenges,” Jeanusnat admits. His asylum claim was rejected by the Italian authorities, so he cannot find legal work or housing. Jeanusnat reflects that, ideally, he would like to go to America because “that is where I would love to be so that I would be free.” He deeply regrets having left his mother in Niger, where she died without family. This leaves Jeanusnat with overwhelming pain.
Rita and TSOS
Rita Alkhaledy grew up in Sadr City, a poor suburb of Baghdad. Her father is an Iraqi Arab and her mother was Kurdish Iranian. Her mother lived in fear that she would be cast out of Baghdad as being an outsider in Iraq was frowned upon. Her father served in the Iraqi army in the 80s and was gone a great deal, leading to a strained relationship. Their relationship was mended when her mother died from cancer.
After the Iraq war, Rita and her brothers realized that their lives were in danger. They had to move from house to house to stay alive. Rita loved Iraq and was planning to stay and help bring change to the country, but radical Muslim influences grew to the point she knew she had to leave. She and her American husband moved from Baghdad to Erbil, and there began a successful company. When ISIS took over, they again had to leave everything behind. Eventually they arrived in Utah in January 2015. Rita gives tender details about the difficulties of resettling in a new country, their growing business, pursuing higher education, and raising their two young children in America while still feeling attached to Iraq.
Steve, Anita, and TSOS
Steve and Anita Canfield helped the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Turkey. They helped send blankets, coats, and washing machines to Syrian refugees. They were assigned to Frankfurt to assess refugee camps, soup kitchens, warehouses, and immigrant communities. The couple visited refugee camps and soup kitchens all over Europe to determine what was needed most by refugees.
The Canfields established the Friendship Center in Rome. The center offers classes in Italian, English, Italian, and a Red Cross course. It also has a gospel choir, a popular activity for primarily African refugees. The LDS Church has plans to set up similar centers in Athens and London and evaluate other locations for future centers. The Friendship Center also hosts regular excursions around Rome.
The Center is run by community volunteers and university students doing internships. It's ran by the Canfields and funded by donations from the LDS Church.
Leonard Bagalwa and TSOS
Leonard was forced to join the military at the age of 17 in his home country of the Congo. A Catholic priest smuggled me out of the country and I lived in refugee camps in several different countries until 2004 when he came to the United States.
In 2005, a couple came to Leonard when he was homeless in the Provo library. They found out that he needed help and offered to let me live with them. They ended up paying my tuition for my education and I went to college for five years.
Leonard uses his experiences to teach that with hard work it is possible to help others and teach them that no matter how hard a situation you are in, nothing can take you away from the blessings God has for you.
Leonard Bagalwa now serves as director of the Utah Community and Refugee Partnership Center, which he created to help “motivate, empower, enlighten, and transform refugees through education.” The center has assisted almost one hundred refugees since 2016.
Ketevahi 'Katje' and TSOS
Ketevahi “Katja” is from Georgia. She’s in her late 40’s. She grew up on a farm in the country and became the financial support for her family after her mother died and her father became “emaciated.” When Putin came to power, diplomatic ties deteriorated between Georgia and Russia, which eventually led to war. She fled her country using forged documents and first worked in Turkey but has now lived in Naples for nine years and regularly sends money home to her brother, who cares for their father.
Katja expresses her feelings about war, government, liberty, and what it means to be a good global citizen. She is happy because she does good to others, and she hopes others can also find joy in living such a life.
Layla and TSOS
Layla left Ethiopia 10 years ago to look for work opportunities. She left behind a father and three brothers. She went to Syria on a three-year work contract. She worked in a house and learned Arabic. She then went to Turkey by boat and then went on to Greece for 5 years. She worked and learned the Greek language. When she became pregnant she had to stop working. She travelled to Serbia to Macedonia to Austria all on foot. Then the Red Cross moved Layla and her daughter to Giessen, Germany where a roommate periodically beat her baby. Seeking safety and security, Layla moved to Frankfurt and lived in a small hotel without even a kitchen. The mattress there was very dirty and made her sick with allergies. She was transferred to a gymnasium. At that time she was pregnant with her second daughter. A man brought her to the women’s shelter because the gym was crowded and felt unsafe. To ensure her daughter was fed, she traveled 50 minutes each way, twice a day (almost two hours) to take her daughter to kindergarten. All Layla seeks is peace of mind that her own home can give and for her children to attend school. She wants to work, rest, and be accepted in Germany.
MoMo and TSOS
When Momo was only nine years old, he returned home to find his parents and his six sisters and four brothers had been killed in their own home. Sometime after that, he and his uncle left Somalia together to live in Yemen. He stayed in Yemen until he was sixteen, but when things became unsafe there, he moved to Libya. He had hoped to get on a boat in Libya to go somewhere for a new life, but he was thrown in prison instead. He was harassed and told to ask his family to send money so that he could be released. But Momo had no family to help him out, so he spent seven months in prison. He witnessed injustices like rapes, kidnappings, and killings in Libya, and even suffered great abuse himself. He was beaten so badly by Libyan soldiers that he spent three months recovering in the hospital.
When he arrived in Italy in 2011, he had no money and no way to return to his home. He came over with two hundred people. However, he and five others left for Sweden where he stayed for six years. He moved back to Rome and has been there eleven months. There has been nowhere for him to go in Rome. He has received food and blankets from people, but he lives and sleeps on the streets.
Momo wants a home, family, and educational opportunities. He has made many friends in Rome and serves others who are struggling like him. He wants to see justice done for his people. He has worked hard to learn French, English, Arabic, and Swedish so that he could work, make a life and help others.
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