Nine-year-old Arya Mustafawi has a message for Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox: “I want to bring my cousins from Afghanistan back to America to keep them away from the Taliban.
She also wants all the children to have the same education she received, and said that it “hurts my heart every time I hear the news of [Afghanistan]. “
Arya’s older cousin, Shubaira Aminzada, said cousins, aunts and uncles aren’t the only family members she worries about. There is also her sister-in-law, who is 32 weeks pregnant.
Aminzada said her brother is currently in India, trying to reach his wife in Afghanistan.
“I hope he gets there and I hope he won’t be killed along the way,” she said.
This is not the first time her family has experienced deep fear and uncertainty. Despite his flight to Pakistan, his father was murdered in 1998, just a month before he was born, Aminzada said. His family arrived in the United States in 2000.
“What’s ironic is thinking that we have fled all of this persecution … but 20 years later, exactly the same is happening with my brother,” Aminzada said.
Arya and Aminzada both attended a prayer vigil on August 21 for the local Afghan refugee community.
The event came nearly a week after Taliban forces invaded Kabul, the Afghan capital, and captured the presidential palace.
The vigil, held in Murray Park, was hosted by the Big Ocean Women faith group, the Roots of Peace humanitarian organization and the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.
About 150 people came to support the Afghan community.
Prayers were offered by people of Christian, Jewish, Native American and Polynesian descent. Several teenagers sang musical numbers and local Afghans spoke to the crowd about the challenges their community faces.
Big Ocean Women founder Carolina Sagebin Allen also addressed attendees, saying there is nothing more powerful than people from different backgrounds coming together to pray.
“Whenever you call upon a higher power, that energy that grows from your heart for goodwill transcends above all else,” she said. “Together, our collective tears, our collective pain, our collective goodwill can rise up and create miracles.”
In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Allen said she and other local leaders organized the vigil because they wanted to do something for the Afghan community.
People need to come together and show solidarity with the Afghan people right now, she said.
“We are all friends. We are all neighbors. We’re in the same boat, ”Allen said.
Helping Afghan refugees
When it was her turn at the microphone, Aminzada told the vigil attendees that it was important not to have mercy on the refugees. They have the same dreams as those with opportunities, she said, and it is the duty of those who have enough to help others.
She also wants people to humanize refugees, Aminzada said.
“[The Afghan people] are not people who are less than us, ”she said. “They just found themselves in an unfortunate situation that we are not in right now.”
Community member Melissa Inouye then shared three types of actions the Utahns can take to help Afghan refugees: political, community and cultural.
First, political action means reaching out to elected officials, Inouye said. For example, one person could write to the White House and demand that the United States work for the preservation of life and security in Afghanistan, she said, or they could ask politicians to find ways to issue and process visas.
Second, Inouye said community action means volunteering or donating. It could be like cleaning homes for new refugee families, offering tax preparation or other skills, or simply donating needed items to humanitarian organizations. The Utah International Rescue Committee, for example, lists volunteer opportunities at bit.ly/3sJR1WH, while their donation lists are available at bit.ly/3j8aLA6.
Finally, cultural action means making Utah a safe place for people of all religions, races and ethnicities, said Inouye.
Community members could start learning new languages or expand their social circles to include diverse people, she said.
“Let’s put works behind our faith,” said Inouye.
The vigil ended with a minute of silence in honor of the Afghan people.
In an interview, community member Ghazanfar Ali said he attended the vigil to show solidarity with his Afghan friends.
The Utahns can help local Afghans by being good friends and neighbors, he said.
“The least they can do is reach out to Afghans in their neighborhood,” Ali said. “Talk to them, share with them… ask them questions about their families. Ask them if they need anything.
Abdul Wahab, who came to the United States from Afghanistan in 2014, added that he wanted senators and members of Congress to stand up for the Afghan people.
He also hopes the community will take action.
“It is not enough to say ‘Sorry’,” Wahab said. “[People] can do something.