EXCLUSIVE: San Rafael nonprofit pleads for help evacuating 360 Afghan employees in Kabul

ByLiz Kreutz and Cornell Barnard KGO logo
Monday, August 16, 2021
EXCLUSIVE: Bay Area nonprofit desperate to evacuate Afghan employees
As the Taliban moves in on Afghanistan's capital city, a local nonprofit is pleading for help to evacuate their 360 Afghan employees in Kabul.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the Taliban moves in on Afghanistan's capital city, a Bay Area nonprofit is pleading for help to evacuate their 360 Afghan employees currently in Kabul.

"Roots of Peace" is an organization that has been doing work in Afghanistan for two decades helping to replace landmines across the country with agricultural crops, such as vineyards and fruit trees. The founder and CEO is Heidi Kuhn of San Rafael. She told ABC7 News that she has been up all night desperately trying to help her employees.

"This is a crisis," Kuhn said in an interview Sunday morning. "Their lives are at risk."

RELATED: Biden sends envoy in urgent effort to stop Taliban offensive in Afghanistan

Kuhn has sent a letter to President Joe Biden pleading for him to help.

"I am writing with the greatest sense of urgency to implore you to act decisively and not abandon my 360 Afghan employees, who for the past 20 years have faithfully implemented our U.S. based nonprofit development programs in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, at great personal risk," she wrote. "This letter is most critical in saving the lives of my loyal Afghan staff."

WATCH: 'Roots of Peace' founder Heidi Kuhn speaks with ABC7's Liz Kreutz about employees in Kabul

As the Taliban moves in on Afghanistan's capital city, a local nonprofit is pleading for help to evacuate their 360 Afghan employees in Kabul.

A solidarity ceremony was held at Kuhn's home Sunday, supporting the Afghan people and praying for peace.

Roots of Peace employee Hamid Ansary is hoping his sisters can escape the country.

"They're really scared," said Ansary.

Bibi Kawser Amine from Concord has been getting messages from her friends in Afghanistan saying goodbye.

"I said oh my God, don't send me these messages you will be alive, they said you don't feel us because you're safe," said Amine.

In 2015, former ABC7 News anchor Cheryl Jennings traveled to Afghanistan with Roots of Peace and interview President Ghani. Back then he was hopeful for the future.

WATCH: ABC7 News Anchor Cheryl Jennings interviews Afghanistan president

Cheryl and President Ghani sat in his private office, where he shared his dreams to help restore his country's economy through agriculture.

"It's a reborn love, a rebirth for the future of the country," said Ghani in 2015.

Heidi Kuhn says she's not pointing fingers about the crisis in Afghanistan.

"I don't think it's the time to cast blame, we need to take this day and get this country back on its feet because its economics are at risk," said Kuhn.

Kuhn said she is in touch with several contacts in Afghanistan who have described a dire situation there, especially "catastrophic, unspeakable assaults" on women happening in provinces around the country.

"According to the woman doctor I spoke to yesterday in Kabul, not only are women being raped, but they're being branded with hot iron after being raped," Kuhn recalled. "These are young girls -- 14, 15, 16 -- branded."

Kuhn believes her employees are at "double risk" of being targeted since they work for a U.S. government-funded nonprofit run by a woman.

RELATED: ABC7 News Anchor Cheryl Jennings speaks with working Afghan women

ABC7 News Anchor Cheryl Jennings had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan with the San Rafael-based nonprofit Roots of Peace and met women risking their lives to work.

"I've gotten probably 100 emails overnight," she said. She said her employees believe the Taliban are "threatening their lives, to behead them, to go house by house to find out."

She said so far her offices in Afghanistan have destroyed their computers and put the information on the iCloud to help prevent her employees from being found.

"This has not only been a crisis of a night," she said. "It's been a catastrophe."

Kuhn said her employees worked in multiple provinces of Afghanistan, but that in recent weeks as the Taliban gained ground most of the staff fled to Kabul. She said they are among hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced People now concentrated in the country's capital.

In addition to working on getting her employees to safety, Kuhn is also organizing to help those who are displaced in Kabul. She said her chief of staff encountered a woman whose baby died in her arms because she had no milk.

She said they will use "Roots of Peace" donations to purchase tents, blankets, milk and rice that her staff on the ground can try to distribute.

"As a mother and grandmother, I will do everything I can to protect my Afghan family," Kuhn said. "This is family to me."

Kuhn said those who wish to help her cause can donate at RootsofPeace.org.