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In Afghanistan, she risked her life for an education. He was endangered as a translator — Now, they're sharing their journey to the U.S.

"I had multiple encounters with them directly, that they threatened my life and said they'd kill me."

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — "I think it's a sorrow. It's a sadness that all Afghans around the world feel," said Sara Javid. "It feels that (the last) 20 years was an illusion. The freedom, the education, all the things women were able to do. It's an illusion. It doesn't exist anymore and... I doubt everything."

Sara grew up in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban. Between her and her husband, Javad Javid, they recall a number of invasions and conflicts including the Soviet Union, Taliban and United States. 

Sara specifically remembers when she was around seven-years-old and Taliban fighters gained control — "shooting guns in the air and everybody was saying, 'Oh, Taliban came! Taliban came!'"

It was a different time, especially for women. They couldn't drive, work, gain an education or even go outside the house without the accompaniment of a man.

"There was no school," Sara said. "During the Taliban, you burn everything - like we burned pictures. We burned books."

But burning books only fueled a fire within Sara. 

"I had a very strong desire to go to school. It was a suffering for me because it was not accepted there," Sara recalled. "All I wanted at that time was to read, to know how to make sounds, how to read a word and how to read a book. I don't know how I found a lady, but she taught girls at her house."

The consequence for teaching young women would've likely been deadly for the teacher as well as students... but also for their families — including the men in Sara's family.

"I remember when I was nine or 10-years-old, I saw men hanging," Sara said. "They were killed and hanging on the street. They were all Hazara."

Hazara is Sara and her husband's ethnicity, and in Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, it's viewed as a minority. It's the reason Sara said she spent her childhood without her father.

"I remember my dad was never in Afghanistan. He was always running away from [the Taliban]," Sara said. "I don't know where he was. He was always in Pakistan or Iran, anywhere where he could hide. He was never with us."

"We would not be able to be part of the government in the Taliban regime. We would not be able to hold any titles or positions," Javad said. "We couldn't have an education. We were basically the lowest level of society -- not by choice, they made us."

That's why Javad left Afghanistan when he was young. 

"[My parents and family] sought refuge and the safest place they could easily go to was the neighbor country Iran," Javad said. 

While Javad went to elementary and high school in Iran, Sara secretly continued to attend her underground class -- until the morning that changed the world as we knew it: September 11, 2001.

Less than a month later, the United States invaded Afghanistan. 

Sara said she remembers listening to the radio, not knowing what war held. She assumed everyone would be killed.

"We didn't know how America was going to fight with Afghanistan or the Taliban. So, we were just like, 'Okay. Maybe tonight is our last night... we will be dead.' I remember that," Sara said. "But when the American airplane came and only bombed the Taliban's station, after that, we were not scared."

Sara and Javad said the United State's invasion helped open classrooms to all, bringing Javad and his family back to their home country.

"When the United States came to Afghanistan, from our perspective and our tribe, it opened a lot of opportunities for us," Javad said. 

And fittingly, where he and Sara would then meet was at school. They both said it was love at first sight. But this kind of love wasn't a luxury they could easily afford.

"It is not acceptable for a young boy and a young girl to have a relationship, even as a friend. Most of the marriages are arranged," Javad said. "I think it took me two years, so I could ask her to be my soulmate. When I met her I knew she was the one (and) I just went all in. I told my parents I'd pay the cost... and then we finally got married."

"So, at least we were not killed to be in love with each other," said Sara.

But in finding work to support his new family, Javad did risk his life day after day.

"When I finished my education and got my bachelor's degree, there was not that many opportunities for me finding a job... so, I always wanted to join the military, that was one of my dreams," Javad said. "And which military better than the United States? We always advertise we're the biggest and strongest military in the world. Working with them was an honor for me, especially the mission we had -- to get rid of the terrorists over there."

Javad became an interpreter for the United States forces, providing translation for American troops.

"Their life was depending on me and what I was translating to them and my life was depending on them to protect me," Javad said.

But providing translation came at a high cost as Afghan interpreters had one of the biggest targets on their back as they provided assistance to the U.S. in the fight against the Taliban.

"Anything that would reveal my identity, I would take it out when I was going on these missions," Javad said. "I even had to change my accent and my voice to talk to these people. But eventually after doing it for three years, they're going to find out who you are... I had multiple encounters with them directly, that they threatened my life and said they'd kill me."

Credit: Javad Javid
Javad Javid covers his face as he serves as a translator to the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.

Related: How to help Sacramento's Afghan refugee population

Javad said he eventually began to feel that he was escaping the Taliban constantly -- and the risk became too great, resulting in the United States issuing him a Special Immigration Visa.

Special Immigration Visas (SIV) are for those who supported the United States mission -- but with recent Taliban takeover, there's another type of visa being applied for.

"There's a humanitarian parole. So, those were a large number of folks who in those last days in the fall of Kabul who were coming out of the country," said Congressman Ami Bera. "Folks that are really asylum seekers and refugees."

No matter the visa, when refugees do arrive, there's a number of organizations in the Sacramento area set up to provide assistance during a turbulent time.

"They still have to cope and deal with the insecurity that their family deals with back home," said Oussama Mokeddem, Policy & Advocacy Manager for the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Sacramento Valley/Central Chapter.

CAIR is one of the organizations that has stepped up, providing assistance during an increased amount of refugees coming to the Sacramento area -- as Sacramento and the surrounding region is home to one of the largest, if not the largest, group of Afghan refugees in the United States.

"We're a non-profit organization that really caters to needs that are on the ground," Mokeddem told ABC10.

He said while many recently arrived refugees are in for a culture shock and huge adjustment, that doesn't mean they should be thought of any less or "pitied."

"These are very resilient people that have faced a lot of hardship and coming out here essentially for opportunity that they cannot seek back home due to global systemic issues that we're facing today," Mokeddem said.

Javad and Sara's story stands as an example of that hard work and dedication -- and how much can change in the seven years since their arrival.

"We came here with $800," Javad said. "I applied for a lot of jobs."

To pay the bills, Javad initially worked in the labor force -- but it wasn't enough for him and Sara. They also wanted to give back to their community.

"After one year (after) we came here, I felt so disappointed. I told him, 'We came here to just be a laborer and work like this. It's not acceptable.' Not just the money, but you have to lean on the impact of your work," Sara said. "So, he decided to go to the Air Force. That was the time I calmed down because I said, 'Now you're doing something besides [earning] money for us to survive... it's something you're doing that's beneficial. It has a value. It has a respect."

Javad said, to him, joining the U.S. Air Force created a "freedom that people talk about."

"That is, for me, the true meaning of freedom and makes it feel like home," Javad said.

While their life here has transformed in the last seven years since their arrival, there's one thing that remains the same: their mutual love of learning.

"She is always ordering books! I come home and there's packages on my porch and I'm like, 'What did you order? Why is this so heavy?' And it's like, 'Oh just some books!'" said Javad, lovingly. "She just reads through books -- maybe one or two a week."

It's something they are passing onto their children and also to their community. 

Credit: ABC10 | Rory Ward

They've created a little library outside their home. Javad made the boxed in shelves, and Sara keeps them stocked. It promotes the importance of education, something that's a dream come true for Sara who as a young woman wasn't allowed to learn.

"I was imagining that. Now, I have one book shelf in the living room, one bookshelf here and one in my bedroom and the free library bookshelf," Sara said. "This is my childhood dream. Now I'm sharing my dream with other people."


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