'I would be forever grateful to anyone who contributes': Student starts GoFundMe to help evacuate family from Afghanistan

A UBC student launched a fundraiser to raise money for her family’s evacuation from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

On April 27, Maryam started a GoFundMe page to raise money for her family’s evacuation. Maryam asked to keep her last name anonymous for her and her family’s safety and security.

For eight months, Maryam has worked alongside her history instructor, Dr. Heather Lebrun, while balancing a full course load and two jobs to sustain both herself and her family, with the ultimate goal of bringing her family to North America.

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Maryam’s family have been living in danger due to their ties to the Western world.

“The Taliban don't like women, especially if they're the educated and strong, which is the case for my sister and my mother,” Maryam told The Ubyssey. Maryam’s sister, studying railroad engineering abroad, currently faces pressure to return to Afghanistan due to her expiring student visa. If she returns, she will have no choice but to marry someone and stop her education, according to Maryam

Her mother, a women’s rights activist, faces many obstacles as well.

“She’s considered a traitor and infidel,” said Maryam in reference to her mother’s activism.

In the past, her mother has worked closely with ARZU, an American NGO that employed women in Afghanistan while teaching them how to read and write. ARZU previously negotiated a “social contract” with the male heads of Afghan households that gave the employed women the opportunity to work for the NGO and attend ARZU literary classes.

Her father is also considered a traitor and infidel due to the fact that he has sent both his daughters out of the country for education, which is against tradition.

Maryam added that the Taliban beat her 17-year-old brother with a steel cable for having a tattoo in February 2022. She said the Taliban initially approached her brother for playing soccer, as it was against the Taliban's extremist beliefs. When they noticed the tattoo, they began beating him in front of his nine-year-old brother. Afterwards, they took him to the Taliban station.

“My younger brother was traumatized. He came home and told my father. My father had to save my brother in that situation, my father was also beaten,” she explained. However, this was not her family’s first encounter with the Taliban.

During that same month, her family had another run-in with the Taliban during an unexpected house search for people working for the West. Although it was a scary experience, Maryam’s mother was able to destroy documents linking them to the West, saving their family.

“They were shouting at my mother to hide herself because a woman should be invisible and a man shouldn't see a woman,” said Maryam about the house search.

For these reasons, Maryam is determined to bring her family to North America.

Lebrun told The Ubyssey she reached out to Maryam after reading a headline about an Afghan soccer player falling to his death as he tried to escape the Taliban takeover in August.

“It was then that I saw that and I thought, ‘I gotta make sure Maryam’s not back in Afghanistan,’” Lebrun recalled. On August 17, the two began their partnership to help Maryam’s family escape Afghanistan.

“We were able to get them a visa from the [US] State Department that said they could enter the airport to evacuate, but they could not penetrate the huge crowds at the gates,” said Lebrun when she explained the initial attempt to evacuate Maryam’s family last summer.

Lebrun said it became a “life and death situation” for Maryam and her family when the US fully withdrew from Afghanistan.

“You could hear machine guns going and they were very scared asking me, ‘Where do we go? What do we do?’” said Lebrun as she recalled navigating Maryam’s family over a phone call. After attempting to board the flight for multiple days in a row, Maryam’s family returned home from the airport. It was not until April 17, almost eight months later, that Lebrun and Maryam were able to evacuate her family out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan.

In order for Maryam’s family to be able to enter Canada, they must be privately sponsored through a sponsorship agreement holder. On May 2, Lebrun and Maryam filed the paperwork for this process. This sponsorship involved paying for the costs of the family’s first year of living, which Maryam and Lebrun obtained through a loan.

“I would be forever grateful to anyone who contributes towards helping my family survive and find stability away from oppression in Afghanistan,” said Maryam.