Coastal Empire, Lowcountry nonprofits lending hands amid Afghanistan tension

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Non-profit organizations in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry are stepping in to help as tensions rise in Afghanistan.

Inspiritus has teams based in both Savannah and Atlanta. The organization is helping two Afghan families resettle in Georgia. After five attempts of getting safely through the Kabul Airport, one family is on their way to Savannah.

“We heard that they were beaten by the Taliban. We heard that one of the kids passed out and decided to go back,” said Aimee Zangandou, director of refugee and immigrant services. “We heard that they have to go at midnight and wait by the side of the road and then show their passport to the U.S. military. So I know that was very challenging for them to get in.”

The U.S. government approved 14 Afghans – two families – for Inspiritus to resettle, according to Zangandou. The second family is still trying to get inside the airport. 

Zangandou said the situation in Afghanistan is “the biggest human crisis we may ever see.” Once a refugee herself, Zangandou understands the pain.

“No one ever chooses to leave their home and this was life-threatening,” she said. “So they are really trying to save their lives. It’s between death and life.”

The eviction moratorium is making it difficult for the organization to find housing for the families.

“There’s just not apartments available around, so we’re trying to be creative with that,” Zangandou said. “We’re having to work with some temporary solutions for them to house them while we work on permanent housing.”

Inspiritus is looking for housing complexes and employers to help settle the Afghan families. The organization is partnering with various organizations, including United Way of the Coastal Empire.

The situation in Afghanistan is also hitting the veteran community hard.

“It absolutely breaks my heart,” said former Marine JR Brown. “Unfortunately we have 20 years worth of veterans that are glued to the TV right now asking themselves why. Was it worth it? And we want to let them know that  it was.”

Brown is the director and CEO of Lowcountry non-profit Operation Patriots FOB (OPFOB). He said the organization is seeing a need for Vietnam and Afghanistan veterans to come together and support each other.

“We are losing on average 22 veterans a day to suicide and we are anticipating these numbers are going to start going up,” Brown said. “So we’re trying to get ahead of it to create these different alliances, if you will, between our Vietnam veterans and our Afghanistan veterans.”

For Vietnam veteran Craig Ostergard, watching Afghans desperately try to flee the country reminded him of Vietnamese people trying to escape during the Fall of Saigon in 1975.

“Not just Vietnam veterans, not just Afghan veterans, not just Iraq veterans, any veteran whether they served in a combat role or not are really upset and really distraught over this situation,” Ostergard said.

Ostergard said it’s important for veterans to avoid isolation and build a network to support each other.

“You cross all boundaries. It doesn’t really matter to me necessarily where you served,” Ostergard said. “The important thing is that you served and that you understand the camaraderie that comes along with that. Because it’s a bond that’s not breakable.”

OPFOB is hosting an event for veterans to come together on Thursday, September 2 at 6:00pm.

Inspiritus is also collecting donations for food, housing, clothing and other needs for Afghan families.

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