Rumiko Seya, REALs’ President, Expands the Aid Group’s Focus to Include Afghanistan

Rumiko Seya, REALs’ President, Expands the Aid Group’s Focus to Include Afghanistan

Is REALs also focusing on women within Afghanistan?

One of the women I support is 19 years old. She was working as a women’s activist and journalist, but she was threatened and assaulted by the Taliban because of her work. Still, she continues with pride. I had to take her out of Afghanistan to save her life. She still wants to go back to Afghanistan, if the situation improves. And there are many people like that.

We also started food aid in Afghanistan in February, targeting 15,400 people, including women-headed households. Some of them are mothers, and some were university students who had a lot of dreams. But then it turned to darkness in one night.

Where do the funds to support the evacuations and food aid come from?

We receive U.N. and other support for other projects. But REALs does not receive any funding for Afghan evacuation, apart from private donations. We started fund-raising for that around October; before that, we used our internal assets. We need around $1 million to support the evacuations; so far about $300,000 has been donated to REALs.

What made you decide to get into humanitarian work?

When I was 17 years old, in high school, I saw a photo, taken in a refugee camp, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 2 million Rwandan people had fled. It was during a time when I was complaining a lot about my life. I realized there was only one camera between myself and the photo, but there was huge difference in life. I started having a vision of myself being able to return something to the people who enlightened me. I wanted to do something because I was saved by looking at these people.

And now you are the president of this organization. Did you experience challenges as a woman during your career?

In Afghanistan, I didn’t have a direct harassment, but I had to be careful. For example, during meetings with Afghan officials, I didn’t speak because I knew women are not supposed to speak in public. I was trying to be culturally sensitive.

But there are also roles that only women can play. And that is the motivation for me to continue. When we work with women who were raped or attacked, they are afraid of talking to men even if they are from humanitarian organizations. But when I go there to talk to them, they open up.

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