Marin couple flies home after trying to rescue employees in Afghanistan

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ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
Marin couple back home after trying to rescue employees in Afghanistan
"It was chaos." A couple in the North Bay say they will continue to fight to get the employees of their non-profit out of Kabul.

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) -- The U.S. military mission in Afghanistan may be over, but a couple in the North Bay say they will continue to fight to get the employees of their non-profit out of Kabul.

San Rafael resident, Heidi Kuhn, told ABC7 news reporter, Kate Larsen, she just experienced the hardest two weeks of her life. "I've never experienced such anxiety, such stress, such unknown about the next moment."

On Tuesday, Heidi and her husband, Gary Kuhn, returned home from Istanbul, Turkey where they worked day and night from a hotel room filling out visas for their Afghan employees.

TAKE ACTION: How to help Afghanistan, Afghan community

"We don't sleep anymore, we've napped for the last two weeks," said Heidi, who explained their sense of urgency. "The women who were running our women's gender programs, you can imagine the fear right now. These women are at tremendous risk for their lives."

Heidi is the founder and CEO of global non-profit Roots of Peace, which over the past 18 years, has helped replace 100,000 land mines in Afghanistan with 6 million fruit trees.

When Kabul fell unexpectedly fast to the Taliban on August 15th, she and her husband scrambled to evacuate 75 at-risk employees on buses, including a one-year-old girl.

"The desire of these people to reach the airport," said Heidi. "It was just mayhem. It was chaos."

But none of their employees made it out, "we had 19 green cards and couldn't get one in."

RELATED: Bay Area nonprofit desperate to rescue Afghan employees in Kabul

Heidi and Gary are now working from their dining room table to save their people and their project, which was inspired by Princess Diana's work to ban landmines around the world.

"Today marks the last day of the longest war and it also coincides today with the death of Princess Diana. And here in my backyard with her tragic death, it was a vision of turning mines to vines."

The Kuhns hope to continue their agricultural work in Afghanistan, but the U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists, so they're now trying to figure out how to operate their organization in a Taliban-run country.

VIDEO: Bay Area nonprofits face dangerous challenge in bringing Afghan workers to US

Bay Area nonprofits are desperately trying to help save people of Afghanistan who worked with their organizations.

Gary Kuhn: "We talked to friends of the Taliban leadership, and they invited us back"

Kate Larsen: "How do you feel about working with the Taliban?"

Gary Kuhn: "You know, they've been the enemy for forever, right. So it's kind of odd, you know, working with the enemy. But, you know. we work with farmers, that's our focus."

The Kuhns also have a plan to get their employees, endangered by the Taliban, across the border to Pakistan and eventually to California.

"My grandmother always taught me - don't curse the darkness, light a candle," said Heidi.