Like most of you, I have been in shock and horrified at the events in Afghanistan and have been feeling totally powerless.
I have trawled resources for charities to donate to and causes to support in an attempt to feel I am doing something but, while there are people and organisations trying to do what they can, the reality is chaos and desperation. There is no quick fix or solution.
I have started and stopped writing this post a few times and nearly abandoned it completely, and perhaps should have. However, I feel I can’t write or comment on anything diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) related, which is what I do and part of my job, without acknowledging the things happening right now to people in Afghanistan.
Any attempt to do so feels clumsy and not enough though. I don’t have the knowledge, I don’t have the words, I don’t have comparisons to make or advice to offer. In too many situations, the fear of saying the wrong thing, of being misjudged, of offending and of not having any answers can hold many of us back from talking at all though. We can fall into the trap of focusing on and worrying about how what we say may be perceived and we don’t talk about the big stuff. Silence often wins.
In many of my sessions we talk about our stress buckets and how we all fill these with our daily stresses: home life, health, finances, work, relationships and if we are perhaps fortunate enough to still have the space to see beyond that, the world. Not the world as we once knew it though but a world in a climate crisis, with political and civil unrest, humanitarian crisis and a global pandemic. No wonder stress buckets are filling up and overflowing.
As an anxious person I often have my fears for the future, but if you told me 5 years ago what the world would look like today, I am not sure I would have believed it. Things are always changing: sometimes we progress, sometimes we regress. I know the pendulum swings. The world is far from perfect. What maybe hits especially hard seeing the situation in Afghanistan though is how quickly hard fought rights and freedoms can be taken away. How fighting for progress has turned, overnight, to fighting for and fearing for lives. How people who spoke up and championed diversity and equality are having to close down, hide and run away.
My 9 year old daughter overhead the news and asked me why Afghan women and children were especially vulnerable. Where do I begin to try and explain the situation to a girl who has been brought up only knowing equality and opportunity? I don’t know but I do know that the current return to school preparation that I used to view as a mundane task now feels like an incredible privilege.
I welcome recommendations of how to proactively help when feeling so helpless. A good friend shared some valuable insight that, as well as donating to trusted organisations on the ground and providing for refugees, we can also be supporting and amplifying the voices of Afghan people and particularly women. On the request of Shabana Basij-Rasikh, a teacher and founder of a school who escaped Kabul with 250 students and staff, we must also “not avert our eyes” from those left behind and in doing so hold those in power over them to account (1).
Whilst this post, like the thoughts in my head, has no clear easy conclusion, I also know that acknowledging feelings, talking with colleagues and having empathetic leaders who initiate discussion and openly share how they are struggling with the current situation too has helped. There has been some comfort in knowing others are feeling the same and to connect even when we are so disconnected (and, for me personally, to focus on doing what I can do, no matter how seemingly small). It also feels so important to keep talking to each other about this.
Here are a few links to some resources that we have found useful personally – please note we do not directly work with these charities/organisations and there are many other organisations providing support. It is also worth looking for organisations providing support in your local area.
(1) ‘Don’t Avert Your Eyes’: Afghan Teachers Urge World To Defend Girls’ Education | Women's Rights And Gender Equality | The Guardian