Zahra’s quiet, soft-spoken demeanor belies a woman who is not afraid to take risks to help others. Zahra came from a small family, north of Kabul. After completing her education, she spent seven years with the UNICEF team working to eradicate polio in Afghanistan. “For seven years, I went door to door, talking to parents and giving the polio vaccine.”
The polio vaccine was considered a miracle when it was developed in 1952. For generations, parents around the world dreaded a polio outbreak that could paralyze otherwise healthy children—often permanently—in a matter of hours. In Afghanistan and Pakistan in the early 2000s, the spread of conspiracy theories related to the polio vaccination caused vaccination rates to dip and the disease resurfaced. This crucial public health outreach work became even more dangerous. Since 2012, some 100 polio vaccine workers have been killed in neighboring Pakistan.
Zahra returned to college to study business and found a job in the Afghan government. “Many women want to work for the police or in the army. It meant having a stable job and income.” She was able to help her family financially. But this all came to an end last August.
She remembers the day clearly: “On August 25, I was waiting outside the airport, with papers in hand. But there was no way to get through the crowd. It was so hot and crowded.”
Zahra became dehydrated and fainted. She later learned that three American soldiers saw her collapse. They made their way through the crowd, picked her up and passed her over the razor-wire wall of airport so she could get medical attention.
“Inside, the doctor helped me. This is when I was able to say, ‘I have papers!’” Zahra was also able to make one more call: to let her mother know she was alright.
“I didn’t tell her everything that happened. Just that I was safe and inside the airport. It was very emotional.”
When she finally made it to the U.S., she spent one month in Holloman Air Base in New Mexico. “It is a lot like Afghanistan—a mountainous desert and sun.” There she made connections with American friends.
But Zahra is still anxious about her family. “Due to the security situation in Afghanistan, I am very worried about my family and I hope that they will join me.”
Zahra said she is thankfull to all the American troops and their colleagues, especially Natalie Trogus and Kate Severance, who worked hard on her evacuation process.
She is glad to have a community of support here in Seattle, including temporary housing from ReWA. She also recently started English classes at ReWA and hopes to continue her education and train as a registered nurse.