#My100Days Supporting Afghan Refugees
By Meghan Bohannon
When Nathan Duong (CGS ‘23) first chose the CGS Boston-London program, he planned to work on a political campaign during his gap semester before embarking on an International Relations major. But the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan in August changed the course of his gap semester. Duong, whose family is from Vietnam, felt a personal connection to the people of Afghanistan and the plight that new refugees from the country were facing. He began to work with the newly formed non-profit organization Viets for Afghans, a group that provides advocacy and allyship to the Afghan refugee community. We spoke to Duong about what he’s learned from the experience and what advice he has for future CGS students trying to plan their gap semesters.
Why did you choose CGS?
I think it just sounded like a great program. I really liked the interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to learning that it offered. I also liked the added bonus of getting to study in London in your first year.
How did you spend your gap semester?
I work full time at an assembly line saving up for college, and I work with a new non-profit that just recently formed in the past few months called Viets for Afghans. Its main purpose is to mobilize Vietnamese Americans to step up and support Afghan refugees based on our communities’ shared experience of displacement. Some of our initial work was getting Vietnamese Americans to volunteer at resettlement agencies. Then we raised funds to cover the outrageous $575 per individual fee that displaced and endangered Afghan families face while applying for humanitarian parole passage into the United States and away from Taliban violence. We’ve also been taking on sponsorships. The Viets for Afghans Team has recently been one of the first two groups in the nation to get involved in the brand-new Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans, which is a pilot-program for private sponsorship introduced by the Department of State and Community Sponsorship Hub to alleviate some of the capacity issues faced by resettlement agencies. Viets for Afghans and our partners have recently sponsored two Afghan refugee families, and have reunited them with their Washington-based family and longtime family friends.
How did you decide on what to do during your gap semester?
I definitely didn’t plan any of this out. My original plan was to work on a political campaign for at least half of the gap semester until November, but mid-August was when Kabul fell and created a crisis that was extremely similar to what my dad faced in his evacuation from the fall of Saigon, so supporting Afghan refugees became the first priority. A few days after the fall of Kabul, I texted a Vietnamese friend that I knew from working on Stop Asian Hate community organizing and protests in the months prior. I asked him – he’s a Vietnamese child of refugees too – what can we do to support? He told me that he is part of a group that formed just a few days prior, and that was Viets for Afghans, so I joined the operation right then.
How has the time been valuable to you?
The time I’ve spent working in Viets for Afghans has been very meaningful. I’ve so far had the chance to not only see, but be an active piece of two communities coming together out of a shared traumatic experience to support those who need help. Seeing this allyship and deep connection being built between the Vietnamese diaspora and Afghan diaspora has been inspiring, heartbreaking, empowering, and infuriating, sometimes all at once. On just an inward note, building cross-cultural coalitions that inspire and mobilize people to help others, much like this, are what I want to center my work around in life.
What have been the most memorable moments of your gap semester so far?
To touch on a few, watching news coverage of the fall of Kabul alongside my dad, who was a Vietnamese refugee, was one memorable moment. Just seeing the images and videos of the fall of Kabul was like seeing the stories my dad told me about his escape during the fall of Saigon play out on television — from the chaotic crowds of people, down to the model of airplane people were evacuated on. Months later, I had the chance to talk with one of the people who sponsored my dad’s family back in 1975 and helped resettle them in Washington after being evacuated from Saigon. A few weeks later, my dad and I and Viets for Afghans were at Sea-Tac Airport welcoming the Afghan refugee family we were sponsoring. Here, they were reunited with their Washington-based family members. I’ll never forget those moments.
What advice would you give to future CGS students when planning their gap semesters?
Have a plan going into it, but if the world happens and things change, pursue what helps people and what is most meaningful to you.
What were some of the skills you took out of the gap semester? What did you learn?
How to work and function in a nonprofit and how to work in a team of experienced advocates are some of the things I’ve learned. I’ve also learned how to research and develop projects that address real-world problems that people are facing. Most importantly, though, I’ve learned how connections and coalitions are built across communities and how to shape these connections into actions that help people.
What are you most looking forward to about the next four years?
I’ve been really looking forward to being in the Boston University learning community. The people in this community — students, staff, faculty, etc. — are really incredible. Having the privilege of learning in this community is really going to push me to be the best that I can be. The community fosters a lot of growth within its students, so I am really excited about being in the community in Boston University and in the broader Boston area.