We can help a targeted Afghani poet and activist escape the Taliban
A young Afghani girl — a human rights activist, essayist and poet — who has received death threats from the Taliban, has a chance to escape and become an artist in residence in the Wenatchee Valley. To make that happen, we need to find an organization willing to offer her a two-year fellowship.
The girl, who’s name is being kept secret for her safety and for those risking their lives to help her, is known by the code-name Ocean and already has a financial sponsor in our community. Lisa Stroming, with the support of her husband Scott, an emergency room physician at Confluence Health, has been working for two years to get the girl out of harm’s way.
Ocean has an impressive resume with numerous awards for her academic work and her writing. Ocean, received a bachelor’s degree in literature and humanities and had started her master’s in English literature when the Taliban took over and she was forced to stop her education.
As a writer and poet, Ocean addresses topics of war, love, family, violence against women and human rights. Most of her work is unpublished because of threats against her. Several of her friends have been arrested and beheaded, I was told. International organizations have been working to help Ocean flee Afghanistan.
It’s my understanding that our government has assigned her a high priority status for a visa because of the risks she faces. To get to America legally, she needs to get to another country with a U.S. Embassy to be processed. Once in the United States, she’ll be eligible for Humanitarian Parole, which allows a person to enter the country for urgent humanitarian reasons.
Ocean has been working with organizations in the United States while continuing to write poetry and essays. A key advocate for her is the Artists at Risk Connection, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting writers, journalists, artists and the like who are at risk of being imprisoned or killed for speaking out. Ocean is getting pro bono legal support from the nonprofit Artistic Freedom Initiative.
She is in danger because of her education, activism and her work as a translator for Americans during our occupation of that country.
“She is incredibly brave and (yet) has had fearful moments when she’s considered taking her life, as opposed to being beheaded,” Lisa Stroming wrote to me.
Stroming, who frequently connects with Ocean via social media, received this message from Ocean about the risk she is facing: “I believe that nothing works out and nothing will happen unless there is God’s decree in it, so that’s alright with me. Kindly don’t be worried because whatever the result, that’s okay.”
The tremendous hope and opening of society that occurred when we occupied Afghanistan has been reversed by the Taliban, leaving human beings like Ocean at tremendous risk. It seems to me we have a moral obligation to help where we can.
Perhaps we can find a way to help this young Afghani girl start a new life here and the first step is figuring out an Artist in Residence Fellowship. One local organization has expressed interest in learning more and that is a hopeful sign. We also have received word that the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University is open to helping Ocean. The Wick Poetry Center is funded by the Wick family, owners of The Wenatchee World. CEO Francis Wick, a dear friend and colleague, helped make that connection.
I cannot begin to imagine what Ocean experiences on a daily basis in her quest for freedom. What she and others are experiencing reminds us that any problems we face here in America are comparatively insignificant. What a blessing it would be to help her escape the Taliban. We have a lot of support for the people of Ukraine, and understandably so, but we shouldn’t forget those we left behind in Afghanistan.If anyone is interested in being kept up to date or helping in some way, please email me at [email protected].
A little life
I want a little life
I want a piece of peace
From all closed minds –
I want to get released.
What I want is my right
If I could be free –
Love, hope, happiness
Will be my last needs