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Harvard Cultural Groups Lend Support to Afghans Following Taliban Takeover

The Harvard Islamic Society is one of several Harvard student organizations working to support Afghans locally and in Afghanistan.
The Harvard Islamic Society is one of several Harvard student organizations working to support Afghans locally and in Afghanistan. By Grace E. J. Aranow
By Audrey M. Apollon and Leah J. Teichholtz, Crimson Staff Writers

Amid the crisis in Afghanistan, eight Harvard student cultural groups — including the Harvard Islamic Society, the Society of Arab Students, and the South Asian Association — have come together to raise emergency aid for Afghans who may be displaced and in danger.

The Taliban rapidly took over Afghanistan this month following President Joe Biden’s orders to pull the last remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war. The Taliban’s new reign will particularly endanger women and ethnic and religious minorities, like Sikhs and Hazaras.

Tarina K. Ahuja ’24, a member of the Sikhs and Companions of Harvard, spearheaded the initiative, which she said has raised more than $2,000 for a charity called Ketab Relief, which provides aid for and amplifies the voices of Afghans.

“It’s not like we are there on the ground but what we can do is donate to organizations that are doing the work, that are working in Afghanistan with folks who are struggling and helping people get out, helping them get the medical assistance they need, food and basic necessities,” Ahuja said.

Ahuja urged her fellow Harvard students to stand in solidarity by listening and supporting Afghan voices.

“The core of it is always going to come towards listening to those that are doing this work, taking on this labor, and not only doing it now, but have been doing it for so long,” Ahuja said. “Those calls have been falling on deaf ears, so it’s our job now as Harvard students and as human beings to no longer be deaf ears.”

Iqra Noor ’23, co-president of the Harvard College Pakistani Students Association, one of the organizations running the fundraiser, said it was important to support Afghans during this crisis.

“We owe them the fight for their well-being and the acknowledgement that we are privileged to be in a better situation in which we can speak up for them and amplify their voices and share resources,” Noor said.

Hamaad W. Mehal ’24, the other co-president of HCPSA, said that despite the complicated geopolitical history between Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is important to stand together with other student groups and focus on the humanitarian crisis and the lives in danger.

Sameer M. Khan ’24, an external director for the Harvard Islamic Society, emphasized the importance of supporting Afghans “unapologetically and unconditionally.”

Khan added that aside from donating, he believes that Harvard students should focus on “unlearning” their own damaging biases about characterizing all Afghans and Muslims as extremists in order to support Afghans.

In a written statement, Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote that the University acknowledges that there are students and scholars coming from areas of political instability, conflict, and natural disaster.

Resources for those affected include the Harvard International Office, Yard deans, proctors, Freshman International Program parents, and Counseling and Mental Health Services, according to Newton.

Per Khan, some students in the Harvard Islamic Society and their families are directly affected by the crisis in Afghanistan and have needed emotional support in this time.

“It’s pretty hard, especially living in a time of pandemic. It’s also a kind of an imbalance,” Khan said. “You’re kind of in a bubble here. You’re safe physically here, but then mentally it’s all scary and terrifying.”

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