Heidi Kuhn, the co-founder of the Bay Area-founded, international nonprofit Roots of Peace, is pleading with President Biden and speaking out to the media in the hopes of evacuating 360 Afghan employees whose lives she believes are at risk.
The Taliban's siege of Afghanistan in recent weeks has been swift, and details of potential brutality and civilian casualties that have occurred remain few. For the many thousands of Afghans who aided U.S. forces and/or took part in fighting against the Taliban, the fear of reprisal killings is high — and many of these people were among the throngs creating chaos on Sunday and Monday at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
There is also significant uncertainty for every Afghan who has led a secular life, taken part in new new aspects of the country's economy while U.S. forces maintained control, and for the many women who have taken jobs and assumed leadership roles in government. The first ever female mayor of an Afghan city, 27-year-old Zarifa Ghafari, who was appointed mayor of Maidan Shahr, the capital city of Wardak province, in 2018, said Sunday that she was just sitting with her family waiting for Taliban soldiers to come kill her.
Now ABC 7 reports that Kuhn and her organization Roots of Peace have 360 employees they are trying to get out of the country safely. "Their lives are at risk," Kuhn said on Sunday. She said she had fielded hundreds of emails from them, and she felt they were at "double risk" because they both worked for an American nonprofit, and because it was run by a women.
Roots of Peace, founded in 1997, has for two decades worked to remove landmines and transform lands in the country for agricultural use. On the organization's website, it says it has helped export $350 million in fruits, nuts, and spices for sale in international markets, helping support over one million farmers across seven countries, including Afghanistan.
Kuhn has written a plea directly to President Joe Biden, which she shared with ABC 7.
"I am writing with the greatest sense of urgency to implore you to act decisively and not abandon my 360 Afghan employees, who for the past 20 years have faithfully implemented our U.S. based nonprofit development programs in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, at great personal risk," she writes. "This letter is most critical in saving the lives of my loyal Afghan staff."
She says that staff members have said they fear beheadings, and she says she has received reports of women being raped by Taliban soldiers across the Afghan countryside. Kuhn said that a female doctor in Kabul gave her an unconfirmed report that teenage girls were being assaulted and branded in provinces around the country. "These are young girls — 14, 15, 16 — branded," she said.
The workers employed by Roots of Peace are just 360 out of the hundreds of thousands of Afghans now fearing for their lives and futures under possible Sharia law.
"As a mother and grandmother, I will do everything I can to protect my Afghan family," Kuhn tells ABC 7.
Kuhn says that her organization will continue to work on the ground in Kabul to distribute tents, blankets, rice, and other food. If you want to donate, you can do so here.
Photo courtesy of Roots of Peace