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How we can respond to what's happening in Afghanistan

My husband and I haven’t been on a plane since March of 2020. COVID-19 made us weary to travel in that way, and so when we did finally feel safe enough to venture out, we did all of our traveling in our camper. This felt like the most responsible way for us to stay in our little bubble and limit human interaction. Fast forward, we just recently booked our first flight for an upcoming trip.


We were finally feeling ready, that is until news on Afghanistan began hitting our social media accounts.


I am in no means an expert on this matter, but a one sentence summary of the current situation is that the Taliban has seized power in Afghanistan in the same breath that U.S. troops began to remove themselves after 20 years of occupation.


I could immediately tell when Jon had seem some of this content surface on his phone. He stood in front of me, phone down, with the saddest look on his face.


“You saw about Afghanistan, didn’t you?” I said.


He slowly nodded yes, eyes cast down in sadness.


I invited him to sit next to me and we spent the next hour talking about what’s happening there.


“I don’t know what to do,” he said.


“Me neither,” I said. “But it’s okay for us to be sad and scared right now.”


“I don’t want to fly in a plane right now,” he shared. My heart hurt so badly for him. Jon was feeling the emotional toll of watching people suffer while remembering the horror we faced the last time they were in power.


As an author of a book on 9/11, I feel the need to address the current state of affairs. More importantly, as the wife of a 9/11 Surviving Child, I feel myself going into defensive mode to try to protect my husband from extremely triggering conversations. Important conversations, absolutely, but no less triggering.


I could have dismissed my husband’s fears about flying because of what is happening. I could have said, “it will all be fine, stop worrying,” but I won’t. I refuse to make him feel as if his feelings are invalid. And frankly, I have similar fears. According to the Associated Press, “America’s top general said Sunday that the United States could now face a rise in terrorist threats from a Taliban-run Afghanistan. (Associated Press, 2021).


Another point to note is that the world is not where it was 20 years ago from a technological standpoint. According to Barry Paval, “A Taliban-led Afghanistan that provides tech-savvy global terrorists safe haven to remotely recruit new followers is a different level of security threat than it was previously.” (Paval, 2021)


These facts are scary to hear and leave us concerned not only for ourselves but for the people in Afghanistan who’s lives are now at risk.


There’s a reason we are all experiencing great empathy for people we’ve never met before. For those of us old enough to remember, we’ve felt a resemblance of the fear they’re experience in our nation 20 years ago when it met us here in the US. Even still, there are adults in Afghanistan who don’t even remember living under Taliban rule. In a similar way, there are adults in the US who do not remember 9/11. Let that sink in for a moment.


While comparing the two is not the goal, it’s important to understand that it’s this shared care and empathy that has us all on the edge of our seats, and like Jon, saying “I don’t know what to do.”


The amount of information I’ve consumed in the past 24 hours on social media is telling. Content fatigue is alive and well and can be paralyzing. When we become consumers so bogged down by the sadness and the polarizing conversations that have emerged, it’s hard to imagine doing anything other than being passive observers to the madness.


Right now we have an opportunity to use our ever-increasing access to technology for good. We could spend all day addressing the politics of this and passing the buck on who is responsible. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be having these conversations but we do need to find ways to protect ourselves and others.


Below I am sharing some resources I’ve found on how to help myself through this challenging time and how I can help others. I hope that this will become a helpful resource for you as you navigate the state of our world.


Be mindful of where you get your media


Let me say it louder for the people in the back: Social Media is not a reliable news source! I cannot lie - I fall victim to this as well. But I often have to catch myself and remember that what’s posted there isn’t always validated as true. In fact, the Pew Research center says that “Americans who mainly get their news on social media are less engaged and less knowledgeable. Those who rely on social media for news are less likely to get the facts right about the coronavirus and politics and more likely to hear some unproven claims.” (Jurkowitz, Mitchell, Oliphant, and Sherear, 2020).


Understanding that we shouldn’t rely on social media alone as a way to get news, it’s important to then look at other outlets. As a Christian, I highly recommend https://www.thepourover.org. Their newsletter provides news on current events from legitimate sources. The perspective and insights shared are less liberal or conservative and more Christ-centered. I appreciate the unbiased nature in which they share information.


No matter what source you choose, it’s important to vet your choices and research whether or not it is to be trusted. I encourage you to use this type of analysis the next time you’re reading “news”, regardless of where it’s at!


Slow your scroll


What is it that attracts us to getting our news from social media? Is it the product design that makes it easier than ever to continue endlessly scrolling through the content? Is it the digestible, bite-sized ways in which people post? It could easily be a combination of these and many other things. No matter the cause, if you’re like me you’ve spent way too much time in the pits of Instagram despair. When each interaction leaves me sadder than where I started, I know there’s a problem.


While we shouldn’t ignore the fact that bad things are happening, we owe it to our mental health to limit our access. In fact, it’s only with a health mind that I’ll be able to do anything at all to help.


In order to limit my access to these types of triggering posts, I’ve begun hiding, restricting, and unfollowing posts and accounts that are more life-sucking to me than life-giving.


In addition, I’ve limited my access to social media accounts to just 15 minutes a day. If you have an iPhone, you can do these through the “screen time” feature. You can even have someone set a password so that you cannot give yourself more access throughout the day. I had Jon do this for me and no matter how much I try he refuses to give up the password. Having him as an accountability partner in this has been crucial to my health.


Here is a great video about How to Passcode Lock an App with Screen Time on iPhone & iPad.


These are just two ways I use defensive methods to protect my heart and mind. In Rise from the Ashes: Stories of Trauma, Resilience, and Growth From the Children of 9/11, we uncover the many ways that myself and 9/11 Surviving Children are utilizing tactics like this one in order to preserve their mental health.


Be the change


Now that we’ve stopped spinning our wheels on the endless scroll of content and found reliable news resources, we are better equipped to help other. Here are some ways you can get involved and help those in Afghanistan who are so desperately in need right now:


Donate money


NGOs


According to Time Magazine, “Major international NGOs, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee, and the UN Human Rights Committee, are seeking donations to support their front line work in the country.” (Barry, 2021)


Supporting Women


There are also “women-focussed organisations calling for donations, such as the Women’s Regional Network and Women for Afghan Women.” (Barry, 2021)


The reality is that these organizations often have boots on the ground support and are best equipped to make use of the funds in helpful ways.


Donate time


Don’t have money? I get it. We are all a bit strapped for cash nowadays.


Have time to read? You can support local women reporters by reading their content. According to Time Magazine, you can read education and healthcare articles from women in the country in partnership with the Fuller Project. (Barry, 2021)


I’d also recommend reading the Op Ed piece Malala Yousafzai wrote for the New York Times, where she states, “The Taliban — who until losing power 20 years ago barred nearly all girls and women from attending school and doled out harsh punishment to those who defied them — are back in control. Like many women, I fear for my Afghan sisters.” (


Have time to write? According to Time Magazine, “In the U.S., there are useful letter templates, forms, and contact information for Senators and Representatives which call for greater support to those who helped military forces.”


Have time to teach? Time Magazine shares that “The U.K.-based Afghanistan and Central Asian Association needs volunteers to teach English and offer mentorship.” (Barry, 2021)


What did I miss?

I’m in no means an expert on Afghanistan, foreign policy, or the organizations out there that we can support. If you have other ideas or ways we can help ourselves cope and help others in this challenging time, I’m all ears! Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.


CITATIONS


Barry, Eloise. "How to Help People in Afghanistan." Time. August 17, 2021. Accessed August 18, 2021. https://time.com/6090921/how-to-help-afghanistan-people/.


Jurkowitz, Mark, Amy Mitchell, J. Baxter Oliphant, and Elisa Shearer. "Americans Who Mainly Get Their News on Social Media Are Less Engaged, Less Knowledgeable." Pew Research Center's Journalism Project. August 27, 2020. Accessed August 19, 2021. https://www.journalism.org/2020/07/30/americans-who-mainly-get-their-news-on-social-media-are-less-engaged-less-knowledgeable/.


Paval, Barry. "Experts React: The Taliban Has Taken Kabul. Now What?" Atlantic Council. August 17, 2021. Accessed August 18, 2021. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/experts-react-the-taliban-has-taken-kabul-now-what/.


Press, Associated. "Taliban's Advances Could Signal More Terrorism, U.S. Officials Worry." KTLA. August 15, 2021. Accessed August 18, 2021. https://ktla.com/news/talibans-advances-could-signal-more-terrorism-u-s-officials-worry/.


Yousafzai, Malala. "Malala: I Fear for My Afghan Sisters." The New York Times. August 17, 2021. Accessed August 18, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/17/opinion/malala-afghanistan-taliban-women.html.


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