The Afghanistan News Cycle May Be Over, But Afghans Still Need Help | Opinion

The world has moved on from the Afghanistan crisis, but the tens of thousands of Afghans who were unable to evacuate the country by Aug. 31 have not. We must not forget about these people, many of whom fear for their lives. Even though it is human nature to keep scrolling—to shift our attention from one crisis to the next—we must keep working to help the Afghans who are at risk of Taliban retaliation.

In the weeks immediately after the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan, I was spending more time researching what was happening there than doing my day job. I feverishly typed messages to my friends in Afghanistan—former colleagues at the nonprofit organization in Herat where I worked for a year—asking them for details. They told me that they wanted to leave Afghanistan. I helped them fill out visa application forms and sent them any potentially useful resources I found online. I planned to launch a fundraiser that would allow me to send money to them directly.

One former Afghan colleague in Herat, Farhad, only makes $400 a month working for that same nonprofit, which reopened shortly after the Taliban takeover. Under normal circumstances, Farhad, who is the breadwinner for his family of eight, can stretch that money until the next paycheck comes through, but there isn't enough leftover for an escape plan. Recently, his 19-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter were heading home after visiting a family member when they encountered the dangling corpses of alleged kidnappers, killed by the Taliban and strung up as a warning. Now, his daughter can't stop crying. Farhad wonders how long they can endure a life of perpetual fear and tells me he is worried about his children's future.

I wanted to help. I attempted to launch a fundraiser on GoFundMe, perhaps the most well-known fundraising platform. When I hit submit, I received a message that GoFundMe would be reviewing all Afghanistan-related fundraisers to determine whether or not they complied with U.S. government sanctions. The crowdfunding platform recommended that instead of creating fundraisers for individuals in Afghanistan, I should instead donate to the American Red Cross or UNICEF.

I have worked with nonprofits, government agencies and international organizations for more than a decade. I knew that any money I raised for the aforementioned organizations would go to purchase tents, food and vaccines for refugees, but it would also go to pay for the organization's overhead, which is fine. These organizations need to function and I strongly believe that aid workers should be paid competitive salaries so that more people are motivated to try and solve the world's most pressing development problems and humanitarian disasters. But I also knew that my money would not reach my colleague. I wanted to do everything in my power to help him, specifically, just as he had always helped me when I lived in Afghanistan. I did not want to fund a small part of a project that would likely not benefit him at all.

I received similar messages from other fundraising platforms, eventually finding success on Facebook. I then spent time drafting an email to my friends and family, requesting that they donate to the cause. I shared Farhad's story with them and how he and his family hoped to leave Afghanistan, but didn't have the funds. Some of my friends and family wrote me back, and some donated. I was especially touched when donations appeared from mere acquaintances I had not spoken to in years. Some people on the email chain informed me that they had already donated to other organizations or that they were not financially capable of donating at the time. The vast majority of them ignored my email.

I sent out a reminder email two weeks later. Almost immediately, a woman I knew for years—a personal trainer who runs her own small business—wrote me back.

"Please take me off this email thread," she wrote.

I was irrationally angry. I thought about how she reached out to friends and family to launch her business and how I had always promoted her services to others. I wanted to respond with something quippy and vicious.

Afghan carpet vendors
Afghan carpet vendors spread out a carpet to display at their shop in Chicken Street in Kabul on Sept. 26, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

"Please forgive me for asking that you think of someone other than yourself."

But I restrained myself. I deleted her email so I wouldn't have to look at it.

Her response would not leave my mind and got me thinking about compassion fatigue, doom scrolling, and how according to the Lifespan of News Stories project by Google, Schema and Axios, the news cycle for a major global event lasts an average of one week before everyone moves on—except the people who are directly affected by the event. In addition to the one-week expiration date, the prevalence of information-sharing on social media tends to decrease more quickly if the news is negative. According to these metrics, Afghanistan had already surpassed its allotted time: the Taliban entered Kabul on Aug. 15. Eleven days later, ISIS-K attacked the Kabul airport, killing 13 U.S. service members and 170 Afghans. The final American evacuation flight left the country on Aug. 31.

Shortly thereafter, Afghanistan evaporated from international front pages, replaced by 9/11 anniversary analysis and coverage of the draconian Texas abortion law.

This shouldn't surprise anyone.

One week seems to be the maximum amount of time we can endure others' pain before we have to push it to the back of our minds and move on. It does not matter that the pain and suffering of others does not adhere to this timeframe. Seven days is all that activists, humanitarians and politicians have to capitalize on people's outrage and empathy before they hold up their hands and say, "enough"—before they are ready to think about something else.

I have not successfully adhered to the one-week timeframe. Or rather, getting blocked by GoFundMe didn't allow me to stick to it. All I can do now is apologize for reminding people that the Afghanistan crisis is not over, perhaps appealing to their rational side instead of their emotional side, and hope that a few of them still have the capacity to care about people who are trapped under the Taliban—out of sight, out of mind but still suffering, long after the news cycle is over.

If you are interested in helping Farhad and his family directly, you can still donate to my fundraiser on Facebook. We have been able to send him part of the money we've raised. If you are looking for other ways to help the Afghan people, the Afghan American Foundation has compiled a list of vetted organizations providing humanitarian and legal assistance.

Emilie J. Greenhalgh lived in Herat, Afghanistan, from 2012-13. She is an international development professional with a decade of experience working in transitional and conflict-prone countries. She holds an MA in international relations and economics from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and currently resides in Indonesia. Emilie is querying agents for her memoir about life in conflict zones and caring for her terminally ill mother. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @emilieonthemove.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.