The Afghan Scholars at Risk Fund is a joint program founded by the San Jose State University Human Rights Institute and the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center. Its main goal is to help people at risk of suppression after the wake of the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan, according to co-executive director of the Human Rights Center, Betsy Popken.
Born in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban control of the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, the SJSU Human Rights Institute worked to evacuate those most at risk including women activists, journalists and scholars.
The joint program has raised over $400,000 to host the scholars and their families, according to SJSU Human Rights Institute spokesperson William Armaline.
“Our goal is to set our Afghan scholars up for success, help them to cover some of their expenses, legal expenses, healthcare, housing, set them up to the best of our abilities so they are able to take over these life issues on their own,” Popken said. “Very different from here in the US to life over there, but our main goal is so that they can become fully self-sufficient by the end of the program.”
Armaline stated that the program was founded out of an “obligation” to assist Afghan journalists that had previously worked with SJSU. They stated that they also believe they are committed to dealing with the implications of U.S. foreign policy by assisting with humanitarian disasters around the world.
Popken added that a majority of the cooperation between the two universities was during the coordination of the evacuation of the Afghan scholars, as well as the funding of the program.
Armaline said in an email that their collaboration also included working together to find placements for the scholars.
“I have really high hopes for (Judge) Basira (Qazizada) and Khwaga, they are both very qualified in their fields and I have hopes that they can create very successful lives for themselves here in the U.S.,” Popken said.
Khwaga Ghani, one of the Afghan Scholars, who is conducting research at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, stated that before the takeover of Kabul, she had been working with NPR for nearly three years. Ghani said she had to flee her country with her family and has now spent about a year at UC Berkeley.
Ghani stated she learned about the program through her research and reached out to the Human Rights Center and was selected as a scholar after several interviews.
“HRC has been so helpful and I am so thankful that UC Berkeley has this program for people like me and has been helping with every step since the day I was here,” Ghani said.
Ghani said life here is very different in relation to where she lived, stating that she had to adapt to “new laws, new rules, new information.” She shared that she is still adjusting in certain ways in regards to her work in journalism, which was easier in her country than in the U.S.
Currently, Ghani is working on stories regarding Afghan refugees in the United States.
Ghani said she hoped that she would be able to go back and find a space for herself in her country but stated that it is not currently possible because the Taliban is hunting women activists and journalists such as herself.
“I am hoping to go back and work with NPR in Afghanistan,” Ghani said.