When the Afghanistan government collapsed in August 2021, thousands of Afghan individuals and families went into hiding. Many of the individuals had been collaborating with the US and other nations in the building of a more stable regime, and were consequently facing retribution from the Taliban.

In 2022, two organizations, EVAC and Operation Snow Leopard (OSL), formed to help these people, and a local individual with ties to both approached the Rotary Club of Grass Valley South for help with funding and coordination of resources. All Rotary clubs in Western Nevada County (Rotary Club of Grass Valley South, Rotary Club of Grass Valley, Nevada City 49er Rotary Club, Nevada City Rotary Club, Rotary Club of Penn Valley), and two more in District 5190 (Rotary Club of Reno and Rotary Club of Truckee), collaborated on a grant to support the efforts of these organizations. Two significant individual donations from community members also empowered this work.

Thanks to this generosity of our greater community, over 150 at-risk Afghan allies benefited from a wide range of support, including food, shelter, internet services, medical resources, and assistance in the procurement of passport and immigration documents.

Specifically, the grant’s provisions included (but were not limited to):
  • Sustenance packages covertly delivered to families in hiding (including food, formula, and infant diapers).
  • Housing in Pakistan for four months, including rent and utilities.
  • Urgent medical care, including an emergency C-section (which resulted in a safe delivery for both mother and newborn), pre- and post-natal care, spine injuries as a result of torture at the hands of the Taliban, and treatment for a young woman’s rights activist.
  • Internet services for families so that children in hiding could continue attending school and parents could improve language skills, search for jobs, and prepare for resettlement in the US.
  • Visa extensions for individuals awaiting the ‘next step’ in their journey, keeping them safe in third countries while their immigration cases finalize in their destination countries (including the US)
  • Passport assistance & visa extensions for high value targets of the Taliban, a medical student, and those awaiting into the US immigration court
  • A mobile emergency response clinic to help those affected by the significant earthquake that happened in the midst of this effort.

The grant coordination and activities were completed in a circuitous manner due to the extreme importance of protecting the identity of the recipients from any Taliban retribution. EVAC and OSL both had a network of local, on-the-ground partners that assisted them in supporting and maintaining their respective groups of beneficiary individuals and families. Transactions were completed in Afghanistan. Direction for purchases, engagement of professionals, and in-person activities were led and coordinated by EVAC and OSL leadership and carried out by trusted in-country partners.

EVAC is an all-volunteer 501(c)3 that works to protect, evacuate, and resettle their group of 352 Afghans that are in hiding with the fear of imprisonment, torture and execution by the Taliban. The majority are families with young children. Not only are they unable to work because they are in hiding, but they are also faced with starvation, disease and instability associated with Afghanistan’s collapsing economy and extreme food shortages. Many are Hazara, an ethnic minority that is facing genocide. Most of these individuals have immigration pathways to the US or other third countries and have hope for a better life if they can survive their current situation and leave Afghanistan.

Operation Snow Leopard is a 501(c)3 group of private citizens working to evacuate Afghan partners and their families, including: interpreters, women leaders, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, and other vulnerable minorities who have been stranded in Afghanistan after the collapse of the Islamic Republic August 15, 2021. These people are actively hunted by the Taliban because they stood with the U.S. and against everything the Taliban represents. To avoid capture, most spend no more than one night in a single location. Many live apart from their families to spare them the likely horror of seeing their loved ones executed or detained and never heard from again. The Taliban visit their homes almost daily, and relatives are often assaulted, tortured, and robbed for not disclosing their whereabouts. As fugitives in their own land, they cannot earn a living and only venture out in public in the most desperate situations.

EVAC fundraising and casework now have a foothold in the Western Nevada County community. Ongoing volunteer needs include frequent communication via secure internet messaging with individual Afghans to assess and respond to daily life needs, maintain information flow, share logistical information, foster Congressional support, and improve processes (including response to medical emergencies and security threats), supply chain, and general level of care provided.

The Rotary Clubs Western Nevada County are part of Rotary International, the world’s largest business and professional service organization, with over 34,000 clubs and a membership of 1.2 million men and women around the world. Dedicated to the ideal of Service Above Self, Rotarians volunteer in their communities and throughout the world to support education and job training, provide clean water, combat hunger, improve health and sanitation, and eradicate polio. Membership includes local business and professional leaders, retirees and others whose primary interest is in helping others. GVS has been recognized throughout Nevada County for a wide range of service projects and programs that help our community and its schools.

Rotary clubs are open to people of all cultures and ethnicities and are not affiliated with any political or religious organizations. For more information about volunteer opportunities with EVAC or local Rotary efforts, contact the Rotary Club of Grass Valley South at rotarygvs@gmail.com. The club meets Tuesdays at 7am at Courtyard Suites in downtown Grass Valley.

MaryJane Huenergardt

Member of Rotary Club of Grass Valley South

Printed in The Union