It is estimated 285,000 Afghans are in hiding. Without the ability to work they have no food, no electricity, and hope outside help will sustain the and eventually rescue them before the Taliban kills them. The U Supply Corps funded by the Upperwood foundation receives request for help twenty-four hours a day. This is one request: “I Esmatullah, son of Nasrallah, and my family of which two are legal permanent residents of the United States, are in a hiding place and the Taliban Intelligence are looking for us. We are in a bad security and financial situation. We are in a place where no one knows, we face lack of food, no heat or electricity, and we sleep in temperatures near freezing at night. Please pay serious attention to save our lives……”
The summer of 2021 was a time of caution in Afghanistan. The Americans had announced their imminent departure; many feared the Taliban, but none predicted the country’s collapsed on August 15, 2021 with the clandestine departure of President Ghani in several helicopters full of cars and $167 million in cash. The Afghan military forces ceased to exist in a matter of hours as loyalties shifted – some joining the Taliban – others abandoning their two-decade careers as military officers hoping to hide in plain sight in the sudden all civilian population. Many Afghan military left their posts and discarded their uniforms in the trash knowing they would marked for death.
Esmatuallah served with the American forces for the better part of a decade first as an interpreter for a security company funded by the U.S Department of State and then as a driver and interpreter for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. His wife, Frishta, was a teacher for a vocational and technical institute for Afghan women. Esmatullah and his wife were raising his nephew because his brother and wife had been killed by a roadside bomb several years prior. In late July of 2021, Frishta’s parents, legal permanent residents of the United States and living in California, came to Kabul, Afghanistan to spend a few weeks with their daughter, her husband, and their grandson. It was supposed to be a normal summer vacation with three generations of family.
“I told my in-laws they should consider cutting their vacation short and return to the United States when the Taliban took control of Herat and Mazar e Sharif, but they felt confident Kabul would hold, and we would all be safe.”
Within 48 hours of the Taliban occupation of the American Embassy, the Taliban, armed with personnel records and home addresses went looking for all employees of the Embassy because they had assisted Americans. With fifteen minutes warning from a friend who had joined the Taliban but did not wish to see his friend die, Esmatullah, his wife, nephew and in-laws fled their home on foot and watched from a distance as the Taliban entered their home, shot it up with automatic weapons, lit it on fire, and stole their two cars. The Taliban then left two guards in a pickup in front of the house waiting for Esmatullah and his family to return.
“I had been threatened with death several times during my career because of who I worked for, and I was cautious because of my brother and sister in law’s death, but I never thought I would see Taliban in my home destroying and burning our only possessions. We were lucky to have left with our passports, and my in laws had their green cards and American visas as back up.”
Esmatullah and family spent the next three months moving from house to house living off the generosity of friends and distant family members until there simply wasn’t anywhere else to go. None of them could work for fear of being found out or turned in. With winter coming, they found a basement shelter under a bombed-out house that looked abandoned. They gathered what they could from other destroyed and vacant homes and tried to warm the basement room with dirt floor. They lined the stone and earth walls with blankets and rugs. Without heat and a constant food source, Esmatullah weaponized the only communication tool left to him – a cell phone with a solar charger.
On November 26, 2021 the following message was received by the U Supply Corps, a project supported by the Upperwood Foundation which supplies food, wood, winter clothing, blankets, and medicine to Afghans in peril, “I Esmatullah, son of Nasrallah, and my family of which two are legal permanent residents of the United States, are in a hiding place and the Taliban Intelligence are looking for us. We are in a bad security and financial situation. We are in a place where no one knows, we face lack of food, no heat or electricity, and we sleep in temperatures near freezing at night. Please pay serious attention to save our lives. Please, thank you.”
Esmatullah sent photographs of their hiding place being careful not to reveal any external structures hence they serve as a landmark. Despite suggestions to move again, the family said this was the most secure they had been in months and their main concerns were food, heat, and winter clothing. From 6,600 hundred miles away, the Upperwood Foundation worked with a logistics company to install a charri, a wood burning stove, in the basement dwelling with a custom 24 linear feet of venting pipe to prevent carbon monoxide from building up. Solar powered lights, four months of wood, heavy blankets, winter coats and clothing, sleeping pads with reflective liners, and two months of food were delivered by a logistics company funded by the Upperwood Foundation during two consecutive nights with little on no moon to protect their location.
To this day, the family remains in hiding, with heat and food supplied every few weeks by the Upperwood Foundation. It is estimated more than 285,000 are in hiding hoping for evacuation before being found by the Taliban. ∎
Ninety percent of Afghans live in poverty under Taliban rule. Twenty-two million people face death from starvation and freezing temperatures. If one worked for the previous government, the military, the media, or supported the U.S. in any way, then they are not only unemployed, but also marked for death. They are executed in brutal fashion and frequently the bodies are hung from cranes for all to see. This is the story of three families on the brink of starvation, with no hope, who woke to find food at their door….
In the United States on the east coast, we wake at 4:30 to the constant thrum of messages coming across our phones. While messages come all night long, 4:30 rings out like the start of a horse race. The gates open and the sprint through the day commences. The time zone differences are brutal. Kabul, Afghanistan is 9.5 hours ahead. It’s 4:30am EST, and Afghans in peril seek food, safe shelter to stay ahead of the Taliban, and medical care before their day ends and curfew begins. It’s three hours until the sun comes up in the States and four hours until the sun goes down in Kabul.
It is estimated 22.8 million people face starvation and freezing temperatures this winter in Afghanistan. Ninety percent of the country lives below the poverty line, and it has been reported the poorest sell their children to survive. Supplies delivered by the World Food Program and World Health Organization are immediately seized by the Taliban. The U Supply Corps, supported by the Upperwood Foundation, supplies food, firewood, winter clothing, blankets, and medicine to Afghan families in need. A primary philosophy of the Upperwood Foundation - all materials must be procured locally and delivered by Afghans thereby creating jobs. It is impossible to keep up with the demand.
The Ahmadi (name changed) family had a nice life. Married for ten years, Rafay worked as an accountant for a private company funded by the U.S. Department of State, and his wife worked as an interpreter. They had a house, two cars and three young children. When the Afghan Government fell to the Taliban in August 2021, Rafay lost his job and his medical identity was in the State biometric system making it easy for the Taliban to track him if he attempted to travel. Within a week, the Taliban came to the Ahmadi house. They took the cars, smashed the furniture and windows, and lit the house on fire. The Ahmadi’s had left two days prior and moved into hiding with friends. Their bank accounts seized; a former work associate demanded Rafay do accounting work on the side for free via computer. If Rafay didn’t do the work, the former work associate said he would tell the Taliban where Rafay’s parents lived. Yesterday, Rafay Ahmadi texted they were out of food and could no longer leave the house.
The Khan (name changed) family is a large one. Saimal and his wife raised two boys and a daughter. All received formal education. Saimal worked as training manager for Raytheon, an American company, which manufactures Black Hawk helicopters. His two boys became journalists and married, and his daughter became a teacher. They lived within several miles of each other and enjoyed weekly family get togethers - three generations of the Khan family living a good life. The day the President of Afghanistan fled the country in August 2021, in a helicopter full of cash and cars, Saimal and his two sons went to their local bank to clear out their accounts. The Taliban surrounded the bank and fired shots down the street towards Saimal and his boys. They ran. The Taliban searched for all members of the Khan family. In Afghanistan, the entire family is held responsible for the sins of one. With the father working for Raytheon, the two boys having reported as journalists on the Taliban, and the daughter teaching in a local school, the Taliban marked the Khan family for execution. They fled and live in a house belonging to a distant relative under a fake name and pray for evacuation. Yesterday, they called and said they could no longer go outside because a neighbor had been watching them and asking questions. They had food for only one more day.
Zohra (name changed) grew up in a small family with two brothers. One of her brothers had two children and his wife died from endometritis. Several years later, her brother remarried, and there were problems with the stepmother. Zohra volunteered to care for his two boys with assistance from her parents. Sadly, her parents died from chronic medical issues within two years of each other while she completed her graduate degree in business administration. A single mother, technically a single aunt, Zohra started her own food packaging business growing it to over a hundred employees and marketed it with a culinary magazine with favorite recipes and local stories. Her other brother became the Chief Financial Officer, and business flourished until the second week of August 2021 when the Taliban burned her office and fired rocket propelled grenades into her plant killing her brother and several workers. Zohra fled with her two nephews and moved into one room of a distant cousin’s unoccupied house. There is no power, and they have not been outside in more than two months. A neighbor, who was bringing them food and charging Zohra’s phone, disappeared two days ago. Yesterday, Zohra texted that she and her nephews had run out of food.
Three families without food, without money, without hope for evacuation, exist in a dark and desolate winter where people burn feces and plastic for heat when the wood runs out. Maybe by some miracle, or maybe by the efforts of the U Supply Corps and the Upperwood Foundation, these three families woke to food at their front door. If it sounds implausible, it’s not. It’s just Wednesday morning in the States, and the day is just getting started. ∎
In partnership with The Upperwood Foundation, Awareness Ties produces and publishes the 'Hope For Afghanistan' stories written by Russ Prichard.
From delivering babies in Afghanistan to delivering supplies sent from the U.S., Russ Pritchard delivers hope to the people of Afghanistan. While he would say he’s just a glorified telephone operator, he’s so much more. He runs the U Medical Corps, bringing help and hope to those unseen and unheard.