Six years ago, I founded a programme for Afghan female journalists, called Sahar Speaks. Our participants are young women who grew up in a different Afghanistan than their mothers and grandmothers. Like many young people in their country, they have spent the last twenty years chasing their dreams. They were told that no matter what happened, the international community would protect their hard-won gains. But the American-led war is now over, the Taliban have regained control, and the fate of the country's women is unknown. Many Afghans say they feel abandoned by the West.
Now, most of the two dozen Sahar Speaks alumnae are scattered across the globe, far from their families and mourning their journalism careers. Even before Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15, Afghan journalists were particularly vulnerable. They were on the frontlines of an increasingly desperate war and regularly threatened by the Taliban, local warlords and strongmen, who dictated what they could report on.
Many fled in recent weeks, fearing for their safety. They are now in temporary housing, hotels and camps -- here in the UK, in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Canada and elsewhere. One of them was a successful TV presenter until three weeks ago. She escaped to Pakistan under the cover of darkness, four months pregnant.
The last month has been devastating for Afghanistan. So much is unknown about its future. The Sahar Speaks journalists sorely miss their country, their friends, their routines. They miss reporting, working, and being part of society. Many do not know when they will see their parents again.
A lot of people have reached out and asked how you can help, which is why I’ve set up this fundraiser. The women fled with a small bag each, leaving behind their clothes, books, camera gear, computers. Afghanistan’s bank accounts are frozen and they may never reopen; even if they do, the women’s savings are almost certainly gone.
One of the women, who is currently in a British hotel with her sisters, brother and toddler niece, turned 29 this week. The perilous journey to Britain had been so stressful she forgot it was her birthday. She was reminded by social media. “Because of the Taliban I no longer have my place of birth,” she wrote to me from her hotel. “But I am so thankful to the British that I am now safe.”
The money raised will go directly to the women journalists who have escaped. We are raising £10,000 for direct assistance in the coming weeks. They need mental health support, essentials like clothes and toys for their nieces and nephews, and more than anything they need equipment. Cameras and laptops will help them re-establish their careers again. One of them has already started an internship at a prominent German newspaper. Another is hoping to continue photography in the Netherlands.
There is no overhead and all your contributions will go directly to the Afghan women journalists, and be responsibly distributed.
Thank you for any help you can give.
*Update on September 13:
We have changed our target, lowering it to £10,000 from £30,000. We did this because our crowdfunder is "all or nothing", meaning that we only receive the raised funds if the target is met. This doesn't mean that we don't need £30,000 -- this was indeed the amount that we calculated for the journalists -- but we've realised that a more attainable goal means they stand a better chance of getting your support.
Thank you again!
Photo by Joël van Houdt for Sahar Speaks