On September 3, 2021, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast a StoryCorps conversation with Ajmal Achekzai that explored the dualities he felt as an Afghan-born U.S. Marine. It was later reimagined as an animation.
As we mark the first anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, we followed up with Ajmal to reflect on what life has been like since our first conversation.
This interview-style interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
On September 3rd, 2021 we broadcasted your original conversation and have since animated it – How has sharing this story impacted your life?
AA: It has changed my life in so many ways that I am at a loss for words. I managed to get in touch with Afghan Refugee Relief (ARR), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is assisting many refugees in southern California with their emergency resettlement.
What’s important about telling this story?
AA: The significance of sharing this story is that it should make the general public aware of the ongoing struggles of the Afghan people. Hunger and poverty are unfathomable. Among the many tragic things still occurring in Afghanistan, the Taliban have not changed and have imposed policies that gravely violate basic rights, including restrictions on women’s rights, a ban on girls attending school, and violent attacks on Hazara and Shia communities that have claimed the lives of hundreds of Hazara and Shia Afghans.
What do you think people should be paying attention to now on the news cycle?
AA: A year has passed since the Taliban took Kabul, Afghanistan. 24.4 million Afghans are in need of humanitarian assistance. (source: 24.4 million people need humanitarian assistance now Afghanistan. Half are women & girls – these are their stories of struggle and defiance | United Nations in Afghanistan). The ability of Afghan families to care for themselves and satisfy their most basic requirements is being severely impacted by a paralyzed financial system, a shortage of money (the American government has frozen Afghan funds since the Taliban took over the country in 2021), employment opportunities, income loss, and the lingering effects of decades of conflict. These are only a few of the numerous issues people should be paying attention to.
What type of help do you think refugees most need? How can people stay engaged?
AA: There are many things the refugees need. Most of these families often arrive in need of medical attention and with only the clothes on their backs. As they rebuild their lives, they also require housing, food, transportation, household items, and many other necessities. Here are a few different ways people can stay engaged: Donations such as cash, furniture, school supply, items on a wish list, gift cards, new or gently-used items, volunteer to help the refugee families by helping set up their apartments, running donation drives, translators (Dari or Pashto), and being a mentor or tutor, and reaching out to the non-profits that are helping in the States & Afghanistan:
- Afghan Refugee Relief (ARR) – Afghan Refugee Relief
- Afghan Network for Advocacy and Resources (ANAR) – Afghan Resources — Pangea Legal Services
- Humaira Rahman Foundation (HRF) – Homaira Rahman Foundation (hrfcares.org)
- The Children of War – The Children of War
- Raqim Foundation – Home | Raqim Foundation
The links provided above are a courtesy of Ajmal and are not affiliated with StoryCorps.
Do you have any advice for others who feel caught “between two cultures [they] love?”
AA: One piece of advice I can give is to accept the uniqueness of it. Because being caught between two cultures they love gives them a collective strength that can be used to better mankind as a whole.
In case you missed the broadcast, you can listen to it here, or you can watch it as an animation.
This interview is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices and Tapestry of Voices Collection through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.