Afghan translator who saved the lives of five American troops becomes a U.S. citizen

For some people, every day is Independence Day. For Janis Shinwari, this will be his first 4th of July as an American citizen. And boy, he earned it.

"If I was in Afghanistan—if I didn't come here, I wouldn't be alive now. I would be dead." Shinwari told CNN Heroes in 2018. Shinwari risked his life for nine years serving as a translator for U.S. forces in his native country of Afghanistan. He risked his life everyday knowing that should he be caught by the Taliban, the consequences would be severe. "If the Taliban catch you, they will torture you in front of your kids and families and make a film of you." Shinwari said. "Then [they'll] send it to other translators as a warning message to stop working with the American forces."


But his bravery didn't stop there. Just ask Captain Matt Zeller. During a routine patrol near the small village of Waghez, Zeller's unit was attacked by the Taliban. They were both out numbered and out gunned. Zeller found himself in a ditch after losing consciousness from a mortar explosion. As he slowly started gaining back his consciousness, he accepted the reality that he was probably going lose his life. He had no idea how close he really was. Unbeknownst to him, there were two Taliban fighters approaching him. Then gun fire came from the bushes killing them both. The blasts came from the gun of Janis Shinwari.

"I was going to make sort of peace with my fate and I was going to go out fighting," Zeller told CNN. That was when he found Shinwari standing above him uttering the words, "I am Janis and I am one of your translators. You are not safe." Even though they had just met days prior, it was the beginning of an unbreakable bond. "Since that time, we become even closer than brothers," Shinwari explained to CNN.

After the incident, the Taliban put Shinwari on a hit list along with other translators working with the United States military. He reached out to Zeller with hopes of getting a visa to be able to come to America. Shinwari, with a bounty on his head, was hoping the process would take months, but it took years instead. It was not for lack of effort from the man who's life he saved. Zeller knew he owed Shinwari his life and was determined to help get him to the United States.

"I just basically asked anyone who would listen, 'Will you help me? I owe this person my life. I'm willing to do whatever it takes. I will cash in and call in whatever favor. I will owe whatever it is that I need to owe. Tell me what it is that I need to do to get you to help me,'" Zeller told CNN. Then in 2013 it happened. Janis Shinwari obtained a visa and his family were finally headed to America.

As soon as Shinwari and his family arrived in America, the country they now call home, Zeller helped them find a car, a job and even started a GoFundMe page that raised over $35,000 to make sure their transition to the U.S. was a smooth one. But Shinwari couldn't stop thinking about the other translators back in Afghanistan putting their lives on the line for U.S. soldiers.

The two men with an inseparable bond started No One Left Behind, which is a non-profit to help get translators working for the U.S. military a safe haven in America. "We are happy. But I'm not happy about my coworkers, about my brothers and sisters that served the US government in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are still left behind," Shinwari said. "I will fight for them, to get them here. And we will not stop fighting. It doesn't matter how long does it take. But I will fight for them."

So far the group has come to the aid of over 5,000 translators and their families to navigate the visa process to the United States. They offer support including permanent housing, furniture, employment and language skills. Shinwari adds, "I will not stop fighting until I get the last translator what's left behind. I promise them that I will never forget about my brothers and sisters that they are still left behind in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."