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Nebraskans rescue family from Afghanistan, start new life in Omaha

Posted at 7:19 AM, Jan 05, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It was a miracle when an American Airlines flight landed at Eppley Airfield Tuesday at 11:15 p.m.

The miracle was not that the plane landed, but who was on it.

“We are like the fortunate ones among 0.000-something percent,” Ghulam Farooq Mujaddidi said.

“We’re incredibly lucky and incredibly fortunate that everything has really worked out the way that it has,” University of Nebraska Lincoln Professor Ari Kohen said.

Ghulam Farooq Mujaddidi, who goes by Farooq, left Afghanistan for Nebraska in 2011 where he earned his master’s degree at UNL in 2013.

After graduating, he returned to Afghanistan and worked in national security for the Afghan government before the government collapsed on August 15.

“It wasn’t only miserable for me, but for more than 30 million Afghans,” Farooq said.

Farooq and his family were in trouble, but his connections in Nebraska were ready to help. It was all put into motion once UNL Professor Alice Kang, who taught Farooq at UNL, texted him asking if he was okay.

“When the answer turned out to be no, we decided to put whatever plan together that we could put together, and contact whomever that we could think of to contact,” Kohen, who also taught Farooq at UNL, said.

“Ari sent my wife a text and said, ‘hey do you know anybody who could help?’ and she shared that note with me and I direct messaged him back saying what’s the name, give me the story, and started working from that point,” Nebraska Rancher Scott Kleeb said.

Kohen and Kleeb began working tirelessly to get the family to safety. Even when the odds weren’t in their favor.

“Getting out of Afghanistan was an incredibly difficult thing to do,” Kohen said. “Then it was a lot of paperwork and trying to figure out who the right person is to call, who might make a phone call to someone else, and who might help us move the paperwork along.”

“And there were some really tough times in the past five months where you think that it’s not possible,” Kleeb said. “Then just a lot of emotions come out when you’re able to see them finally here.”

“Yeah, there’s a lot of nuts and bolts,” Kohen said. “We keep talking about how we should write a book.”

The US Embassy in Islamabad played a crucial role once the Department of Homeland Security signed off for a Humanitarian Parole Visa for Farooq’s 10-year-old son, Omar, to get medical help in the U.S.

They say this wouldn’t have been possible without many others who didn’t just help get the family here, but also gave them a head start on a new life with a new home.

“So, we had to prepare for their life here that may or may not ever happen, while preparing to get them here,” Kleeb said. “You know, the donation of housing, food, clothing.”

“Drew from the Furniture Project was absolutely incredible,” Kohen said. “He single-handedly delivered an entire house worth of furniture and just people from the neighborhood and the area responding to a Facebook post to help out.”

A new life that Farooq is excited to begin. Although his thoughts are with those who are left behind.

“So, while I’m here, I’m happy, my heart is still bleeding for what’s going on in Afghanistan,” Farooq said. “Because my brother and parents are still there.”

For the team that brought him here, this is just the beginning.

“We’re elated to have him here and for them to get this new life started here, but there’s always more work to do,” Kohen said.

Kleeb says once they knew the family would arrive Tuesday night, Children’s Hospital immediately made an opening for Wednesday to see Omar and get him the medical treatment he needs.