Meme artist raises more than $2 million in 5 hours to rescue Afghans on Taliban kill list

We've all spent several days watching the news from Afghanistan with a mixture of horror, sadness, and frustration. Images of crowds of people clamoring to get onto planes at the Kabul airport, human beings clinging to a flying jet before falling to their deaths from the sky, hordes of men, women, and children desperate to escape a violent, extremist regime crammed like sardines into U.S. cargo planes—it's all too much.

We know there are so many people we can't help. That's the tragic reality. But there are people we can help. And that's happening, right now, on the internet and on the ground in Afghanistan.



A humanitarian mission has been pulled together by former U.S. military and special operations personnel to get hundreds of people on the Taliban's kill list out of the country as soon as possible. The mission includes two planes, deep connections on the ground in Afghanistan, and the logistical know-how to get a group of 300+ women's rights activists, translators and their families, as well as other high-value targets who are in imminent danger out of the country.

Several collaborators are coordinating the mission.

Sheffield Ford, a U.S. veteran with 24 years of service within the Army's Special Forces, runs the private special missions company Raven Advisory, LLC. Ford was deployed in Afghanistan during his active duty time and has extensive knowledge of how things work on the ground there, as well as connections to the people in need of rescue.

Karen Kraft, an Army veteran who runs VME, a professional association of U.S. military veterans working in media and entertainment, also has connections to Afghans on the Taliban kill list. She is coordinating with people on the ground to get them out. Ford and Kraft have been working together for about a week to get specific people on the flight manifest who have been thoroughly vetted and known to be targets of the Taliban.

As GOOD's Head of Content and Innovation Gabe Reilich (who also served as an adviser for the mission) says:

"Afghanistan is heading down an uncertain path - and for some, that uncertainty could potentially be a matter of life and death. So many people have been watching this tragedy unfold, wondering what they can do to make an immediate difference. And now that's possible. We're hoping this effort can make a real impact, can save real lives, can help those who need help immediately."

"Let there be no mistake, human decency and action make it possible to change the world—and we at GOOD and Upworthy are deeply moved to be a part of this urgent, life-saving campaign. We ask that you join us -- because together we can be a force for good."

The planes, being supplied by a defense related products trading company, have pilots who are dedicated to carrying out this humanitarian mission. Two piloted aircraft are ready and prepared to go in within the next day to bring the people on the manifest to a country of asylum. The cost is the only real hangup, as each plane full of passengers (including fuel, crew, security, clearances, etc.) costs $225,000. (Looking at it another way, it costs $1500 per life saved, which seems a lot less daunting.) The hope was to get at least one planeload of people out, but mission operators were pushing for two or more.

Now here's the really incredible part. The money for the mission is coming from everyday people who care and want to do something to help. Through a GoFundMe campaign, the incredible online community built by meme artist/fundraiser extraordinaire Tommy Marcus (aka @Quentin.Quarantino) showed up big time.

The funds for the first planeload were raised in just 38 minutes.

And in a little over an hour, people had donated the full amount needed for two planeloads. 11,000 people donating $550,000, for an average donation of $50 a person, just like that. Amazing.





The goal has now been increased again to $2.2 million in the hopes of getting more planeloads of people out. Any funds raised that do not end up being used for the rescue will be donated to the International Women's Media Foundation, which is helping protect women journalists who are at high-risk in Afghanistan.


Things are moving fast in Afghanistan and there are lots of moving parts in such a rescue mission, but this is what people can do when we rally together, look for able and willing partners to team up with, and invite others to contribute.

"For everyone out there who is tired of the finger-pointing, tired of the virtue-signaling without acti"on—this is for us. The opportunity to make a real impact, save real lives, help those people who need help immediately," Reilich said. "It's felt hopeless sitting on the sidelines watching this tragedy unfold, and now it's possible to actually help."


Indeed. Read more about the mission and the fundraiser here.


CORRECTION: The original publication of this article contained the wrong name of the company that owns the planes being used. That information has been updated.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

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  • Rocky friend relationships
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  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
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“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

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Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

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