Global Health Student Shakila Ali Raises Funds for At-risk Afghan Youths

November 5, 2021
Shakila Ali

By Karina Antenucci

Shakila Ali’s family fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan after the Taliban first took over in 1998. That year, the Taliban attempted a genocide in Afghanistan by killing thousands of members of the Hazara minority group, of which her family is a part. Ali and her immediate family resettled in the U.S. a couple of years later when she was 5 years old. That was 20 years ago but today, history is repeating itself, yet with no escape or security for many Afghan families. 

“When looking at the number of attacks targeting the Hazara community over decades and the number of Afghan widows with children and people with disabilities, it’s extremely high and heartbreaking. Each of these communities are at risk under the current situation in Afghanistan and historically, too,” says Ali, a second-year master’s student in Rollins School of Public Health’s Global Health Department.

Her personal background tied with her long-term interests in medicine and human rights led her to public health and more specifically, global health.

“I’m primarily focused on at-risk communities and their needs, even more so in nations like Afghanistan where decades of war have damaged the education system, infrastructure, and health care access,” Ali says. 

In 2020, as she was writing a policy brief on the lack of emergency health care in Afghanistan, Ali began thinking about what she could do immediately to reduce suffering there in the long-term.

“I decided, if I have the skills, opportunity, and capacity to do something to address their needs and reduce suffering, then I will,” she says.

Ali landed on fundraising. She began by contacting her close friends, classmates, and peers, explaining the issues and needs of widows and people with disabilities in Afghanistan tied to staggering statistics (such as that there have been 33 targeted terrorist attacks on the Hazaras from 2015-2021 alone). She created a campaign including infographics for them to post and fundraise on their social media pages. Together, the group of 40 volunteers collected $5,100 over the course of one weekend, and then received a 100% match by the nonprofit organization GlobalGiving, bringing the total to $10,200.

The money was turned into The Ali Rising Afghanistan Youth Scholarship Fund within Bamyan Foundation, a nonprofit that provides scholarships to children in Afghanistan. The scholarship fund focuses on the educational and financial needs of at-risk children who have lost a parent or who have a parent with a disability since these children often struggle more than their peers due to circumstances beyond their control. The mission is to enable these children to learn, grow, and eventually make an impact for their families and their community through education.

“Shakila’s actions speak louder than her words. She continues to advocate, fundraise, and mobilize others to learn more about Afghanistan and to support efforts in education and emergency medical response,” says Kara Robinson, EdD, MS, associate dean of admission & student affairs, Rollins School of Public Health.

In May 2021, Ali was able to travel to Afghanistan and meet some of the children who received the scholarship in person. She planned to continue the scholarship fundraiser annually.

However, due to the 2021 Taliban takeover and the lockdown that ensued, Ali decided it made the most sense for this year’s fundraiser, which raised $6,700 so far, to switch from an educational focus to humanitarian assistance. This will be provided in the form of food, housing, and medical assistance by a team of Afghan humanitarians and physicians through their localized nonprofits in Afghanistan.

“Despite the ongoing news causing much anxiety and concern for both me and my fellow Afghan community, one thing that has lifted me up during this time is witnessing my social and professional community here come together in fundraising for my homeland,” Ali says.

She adds, “Once things settle down, in the long run, I do plan on continuing the scholarship fund. I know if you were to ask an Afghan parent today what they want, most likely you will hear ‘education’ and ‘a safer world for my children.’ My goal is to continue contributing to that need and hope however I can through my opportunities and skills gained at Rollins,” she says.

If you are interested in donating or getting involved, please email Shakila Ali at smohara@emory.edu.