October 24, 2022

Inviting others to help write a story of success

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Art courtesy of Jahan Ara Rafi

“We are obligated to ask others to help.” It’s a mantra my friend Georgette Lalaus, France Community Program Coordinator, lives by. Though it isn’t something that comes as naturally to me, out of a desire to help my Afghan artist friend, Jahan Ara Rafi, I decided to put it to the test. And guess what?! I’m a believer!

Jahan had an established art career in Afghanistan, published in books and even traveled as a guest lecturer outside of Afghanistan. However, her artistic career, and very life, was upended as Kabul fell to the Taliban in August of 2021. Jahan, her parents, and two brothers were evacuated and ultimately resettled to Northern Virginia. I volunteer as an ESL teacher for Catholic Charities and I met Jahan when she became a student in my class. It was several months, though, before I learned about her art career when we both participated in the One Journey Festival, me on behalf of Their Story is Our Story and she as a featured artist. Jahan is not just an artist; she is an art activist. You can see some of her powerful work portraying the oppression of Afghan Women on her Jahan_rafi_art Instagram account and view this PBS News Hour story to learn more about her life before and after evacuation.

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Jahan Ara Rafi and Brandi Kilmer at the Washington D.C. One Journey Festival, June 2022

Jahan now works at Whole Foods and is studying very hard to learn English, but as you can imagine, it takes time to rebuild one's life. The evacuation meant leaving behind her artwork and supplies along with everything else. I have very little knowledge about the art community, but I quickly realized that in order for Jahan to re-establish her career, she would need some help from a local artist.

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Photo courtesy of Ann Marie Coolick

Enter Ann Marie Coolick, an artist from Arlington, Virginia. I don’t know Ann Marie, nor do I own any of her artwork, but I have been following her for a couple of years on social media. Given that she is the only local artist I “know”, with a very thin hope of potentially helping Jahan, I decided to reach out to Ann Marie by email.

WITHIN A FEW HOURS, I got an enthusiastic response! Ann Marie had already reached out to a few artists and organizations and promised to dig a bit deeper over the next few days to try to get something stirred up for Jahan. By the next day, she had connected Jahan with Omaid Sharifi, a well known Afghan artist in the art world around DC who has been very involved with the refugees. Jahan was familiar with Sharifi’s work with ArtLords, established in 2014 in Kabul, Afghanistan as a global grassroots movement of artivists motivated by the desire to pave the way for social transformation and behavioral change through employing the soft power of art and culture as a non-intrusive approach.

And to my further amazement, Ann Marie had suggested setting up a wishlist where people could purchase and ship art supplies to Jahan’s home, assisting her with establishing an online art shop, and support for studio space, housing, and paperwork. All from one simple email and a thin thread of hope for connection. I asked and then watched it all unfold with an overflowing heart. When I expressed my deep gratitude to Ann Marie, she replied, “My church Our Lady of Lourdes has been very involved trying to help the refugees— from bedding drives to fundraisers etc so when you reached out I knew I had to do something!”

Sharon McMahon, whose @SharonSaysSo Instagram account I follow closely, posted the following image the day after I witnessed this beautiful human connection. I can attest this is indeed true. Sometimes, all we need to do is ask.

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Image courtesy of @SharonSaysSo Instagram

If you would like to contribute to the Art Supplies Wishlist for Jahan, click here:

Art Supplies Wishlist
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