Graduate student aims to help Afghan citizens

Transit Initiatives is a non-profit, women-led organization that aims to help vulnerable Afghan citizens with evacuation and relocation. (Photo courtesy of Sara Yim)

When the crisis in Afghanistan began following the US military withdrawal announced in April and ended on August 30, Sara Yim knew she wanted to help her Afghan friends and their families get to safety in the city. outside the country. As a result, Yim created a women-led nonprofit called Transit Initiatives, which helps at-risk and vulnerable Afghan citizens immediately evacuate the country and move to safer places.

Yim previously worked at the United States Agency for International Development in the Office of Transition Initiatives before joining the Masters program in Social Entrepreneurship at the Marshall School of Business. Yim said she hoped for a career pivot when she arrived at USC; However, when his former employees and friends asked for help in getting to safety, Yim offered to help.

Many relief organizations, including Yim’s, took a digital humanitarian approach when responding to the crisis in August.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, by the way, it’s a whole other amazing beautiful story about how we all react like this with such a digital response,” Yim said.

Yim first volunteered his time to take his friends and their families on planes from Kabul or by land to Pakistan. For Yim, getting Afghans through the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport was one of the most horrific experiences of his life, as many friends and former colleagues called for their Afghan families to be added to the manifesto. the charter from Kabul.

The ISIL-K bombings have dashed any hope of an airplane departure, even after the group obtained clearances from the US embassy in Kabul. As a result, Yim and his former colleagues have pivoted to get people out of Afghanistan via Mazar-i-Sharif and are currently supporting the evacuations of 300 people via Mazar-i-Sharif.

Initially a group of women who wanted to help their friends, Transit Initiatives has slowly grown into an organization that helps evacuate Afghans with the aim of helping them settle.

“We recognize that we [are] in a space with many veterans organizations who have equally and emotionally felt the pain and the call of duty to help support their allies, ”said Yim. “Not only are we possibly the only female-led organization in this space, but we also work to ensure that the U.S. government’s civilian partners and those at risk, in addition to those [military] partners, are not forgotten in this conversation either.

Yim said she and her colleagues feel a duty to continue to defend the security and resettlement of Afghan military and civilian partners. She said the Afghan people who risked their lives for democracy, human rights and to help the US government should not be left behind. Currently, Transit Initiatives has six core members and an extensive volunteer network consisting primarily of former and current government officials, civilian and military partners, and USC students.

Sara Yim is sitting in a red top in a restaurant with a drink in front of her.
Sara Yim previously worked at the United States Agency for International Development in the Office of Transition Initiatives. (Photo courtesy of Sara Yim)

Over the summer, Yim worked as a fellow at the Viterbi School of Engineering for a digital health startup called Frontida Records, co-founded by former student Laura Roed. Frontida Records was formed after her team volunteered at Camp Moria in Greece – Europe’s largest refugee camp before it burned down in September 2020. After her scholarship, Yim kept in touch with Frontida Records, and its members helped her create a database for transit. Initiatives and volunteers with Transit Initiatives including Roed.

“I wanted to help with the situation of the people having to evacuate from Afghanistan and the crisis there was pretty horrific to watch. So I knew Frontida which is the name of my organization could help their group and if that meant helping people get out safely I thought it was worth it. said Roed, a 2021 graduate.

According to Roed, in addition to serving as a digital health platform, Frontida Records also creates custom apps using a no-code platform. The workflow not only creates applications for healthcare facilities, but also for any humanitarian crisis organization.

With the help of the Frontida Records team, the Transit Initiatives app manages to track the contact details of Afghans, their immigration status and their situation update, such as the movement of a person in different cities of Afghanistan and the coordination of transport for its escape.

Another USC affiliate organization that works with Transit Initiatives is the Los Angeles Blockchain Lab, a partner of the Viterbi School of Engineering. Heidi Pease, CEO and co-founder of the organization, was introduced to Transit Initiatives through a member of the team at Her Code, an initiative within the lab that helps disadvantaged women and youth to accessing blockchain, a system for recording information in a system that is difficult to modify, hack or cheat and is used in cryptocurrency.

Her code worked with two STEM schools for young women in Afghanistan to provide greater accessibility to blockchain training for students. However, when the US military left Afghanistan, teachers contacted Her Code and said they were nervous due to the high-risk nature of the girls-only schools, which were targeted by the Taliban. The Her Code team agreed to help the teachers get to safety and worked with the Transit Initiatives team.

“When I first got involved, me and the Her Code team, we thought we were just going to fill out Excel spreadsheets or fill out applications and send passport information to the State Department or any agency. competent, ”said Pease, a fundraising volunteer for Transit Initiatives. “… It quickly turned into they can’t stay in their house, they need to find a safe house, or how do we make them safe?” ”

Pease said current initiatives in Afghanistan depended on local NGOs, nonprofits and volunteers. She said that these different entities must work together and collaborate in order to be able to help the Afghan people.

For Yim, although Transit Initiatives currently organizes volunteer fundraisers, it lacks the fundraising capacity and is one of the organization’s biggest challenges. Since her organization is new to fundraising, Yim said she seeks support from professional fundraisers and grant writers, as well as connections with foundations and charities.

Although many are interested in donating, the organization faces issues with donors who fear the credibility of funds in the country. However, according to the US Department of the Treasury, support in the country, like transit initiatives, is covered by the US government’s waiver of Taliban government sanctions. If donors choose to support organizations in the country, they should support organizations led by “humanitarian professionals” who have experience working in conflict zones, Yim said.

Reflecting on her time as a U.S. government official, Yim thinks her experience at Transit Initiatives is one of the most important jobs she has been involved in.

“This is the most compelling work I think I have done in my 15 years of progressive humanitarian development work, and I have worked in various conflicts,” Yim said. “It’s the most difficult, the most moving [experience] and it’s something that I feel to the core that I needed to play a part [in]. “

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