Many FishHawk residents serving in the military can claim at least one Afghanistan deployment during their career. For FishHawk resident and U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Cornelius Batts, he spent years in Afghanistan. His last assignment was working as an advisor to the Afghan Army’s program to educate and empower women into leadership positions.
When the Taliban entered the Afghan capital of Kabul, completing a rapid takeover over the country with a speed that surprised many Afghans and Americans alike, many of those same women in positions of power were in fear of their lives.
One of them was Zainab Shayan. She and her husband, Ruhullah, both served as officers in the Afghanistan National Army (Zainab for 11 years and Ruhullah for 13 years), and both feared for their lives (and the lives of their two children) after the government collapsed to the Taliban. They were both on duty the day the government fell. Ruhullah’s brother-in-law contacted him and told him that the Taliban was shooting members of the security forces.
Zainab reached out to Batts and another Army officer to help her with the critical paperwork that would allow her family to escape the country.
“Helping this family was really important to my husband,” said Batts’ wife, Nicola.
Even with the right paperwork, the Shayan family endured a harrowing journey that began on September 17 in Mazar-i-Sharif and ended on November 22 when they settled in Tampa. They were in Afghanistan 27 days after the government collapsed. Words can’t adequately describe the fear they experienced as they struggled to secure transportation out of the country. The family is now living in FishHawk Ranch.
“FishHawk is such a beautiful community, and the people here are very kind,” said Ruhullah. “When we go for a walk, passersby tell us they’re sorry our journey was so difficult and ‘Welcome to America.’”
Ruhullah is grateful for the community’s support as they acclimate to American life. From pots and pans to clothing to leads about jobs, FishHawk residents have helped ease the transition. A GoFundMe has also been set up to help the family purchase a vehicle.
Nicola can’t thank the community enough.
“I really want to extend a thank you to all the members of the community that have stepped up and helped,” she said. “Their life in this country is off to an amazing start because of the kindness of the FishHawk community.”
The Shayan family can now safely contemplate the journey to this new land with its new customs and traditions, some of which have brought back frightening memories. When neighbors shot off fireworks on New Year’s Eve, their children mistook it for gunfire. Ruhullah assured them they were safe.
“We are at peace now,” he said.
To learn more about the Shayan family or to donate funds to help them purchase a vehicle, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-afghan-military-family-in-america.