"There is a path, even over the highest mountain"
So reads an Afghan proverb, pointing to the visible resilience of the Central Asian country dubbed "the graveyard of empires". For the past two weeks, the international community watched with shock and horror as disturbing images surfaced from Afghanistan. In-Sight Collaborative's network was quick to mobilize. As an organization who aims to support communities holistically throughout displacement, times like these where displacement factors escalate and lives are on the line, the importance of accompaniment must be emphasized.
"My phone started blowing up with messages as soon as Kabul was surrounded. People were rightfully terrified for their friends and families. I think this speaks volumes to what our relationships within our community mean - at their time of need, when people are scared and don't know what to do, they come to us to help find a solution and likewise, when I needed help or had questions, I reached out to them for support. Even if we all know there is little we can do, at least we are there on the other end of the phone to hold space for that kind of pain." said Madi Williamson, the Executive Director at In-Sight Collaborative. "I never intended on becoming a part of evacuation efforts, but I quickly realized that the consistency and the depth of the support provided by the accompaniment model was necessary in this situation. It was total chaos. Out took hours and hours of effort from our volunteers and others in the network just to stay on top of the latest updates from the ground."
Madi was inspired by the speed at which volunteers mobilized to compile informational lists, websites, social media and chat groups, and advocacy campaigns as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated. Veterans with long-standing commitments to the interpreters and communities they left behind after their deployments were some of the most outspoken against the diplomatic decisions made by the Biden administration, and their distress was tangible. Veteran crisis hotlines reported a marked increase in their call volume as the situation became more and more dire and people were likely forced to reconcile with the realization that some of their loved ones would not have a way out. Accompaniment is an intuitive model, not just for brothers and sisters in arms, but also for the Afghan diaspora watching the situation unfold from afar. “In the past two weeks or so, I haven't slept. I am constantly on the phone trying to help as many as we can." says Shakib Noori, who worked alongside Madi initially to help translate community education documents, but then as a leader in evacuation efforts for at-risk individuals. "I have gone through this. I went through this 25 years ago. It’s really, really tough.” Shakib sat down with Madi for a brief interview last week to talk about the situation unfolding in at the time and how we can best accompany those being forced to flee. "It’s not just about Afghans at this point it's about everyone. We feel the pain for the Syrians, the Palestinians, Lebanon… everywhere in the world, anyone who is going through this. Losing your home is as dear as losing a part of your family. It is painful. The fact that you can’t go there and the things you left behind and made memories with and called home… that is taken away from you. The pain is more difficult than any other pain."
The complexity of this crisis - at both a logistical and a socio-emotional level - will require a whole new level of commitment if we have any hope of addressing the most pressing issues as they emerge. Accompaniment remains a logical solution. "It would never occur to us to abandon our communities at their time of need just because this is out of our scope or range of experience." Madi emphasizes "That is accompaniment. We identify the gaps, we identify the needs, and we use our collective strengths to address them."