Toronto Film School student Robert Burns has started a GoFundMe in support of an interpreter he hails as one of the “unsung heroes” of the war in Afghanistan.
The Left Behind Alex fundraising campaign’s aim is to collect $10,000 for Ahmad Sajad “Alex” Kazimi, who spent more than a decade working as a “terp” for the Canadian, American, Polish and Australian forces in Afghanistan from 2009 until just this past January.
“I’ve been involved with trying to get Alex out of Afghanistan for four years. He’s a fantastic guy – one of the best people I’ve ever met,” the 34-year-old Video Game Design & Animation student and retired Canadian Forces infantryman said of Kazimi, who, as a former interpreter, was under constant threat of violence at the hands of the Taliban before fleeing the country back in May.
Now safely relocated to Texas with his pregnant wife, Bi Bi Azita, and two-year-old son, Modaser, Burns said Kazimi and his family are now facing a whole new set of struggles in their newly adopted home.
“Coming to a new country under the circumstances in which he had to leave – he had to just run, so he and his family left with just the clothes on their backs,” he explained, noting that the GoFundMe is intended to help Kazimi and his family pay for food, clothing and shelter.
“Right now, he has absolutely nothing.”
An 11-year combat veteran himself, Burns knows first-hand the “vital” role interpreters such as Kazimi played in the Canadian military’s operations in Afghanistan, so when it came time to repay that debt by supporting someone who sacrificed so much, he was more than happy to help in whatever way he could.
Since launching last month, Burns’ GoFundMe fundraising efforts have so far netted close to $5,500 for Kazimi and his family, with support coming from many different corners – including donations from his Toronto Film School instructors and fellow students such as Nigel Gruszczynski, as well as strong support from the veteran community both here in Canada and in the U.S.
Donor Neil Prakash, who served as a company commander with the U.S. Army back in 2011, called Kazimi one of the best interpreters he worked with in Afghanistan.
“We went on a lot of missions together,” Prakash said of Kazimi in a comment on Burns’ GoFundMe campaign page. “He was fearless, smart, loyal, hardworking, and my men and I owe him a debt of gratitude.”
While Burns never served alongside Kazimi himself, he said such stories of the heroics of interpreters are far from uncommon.
“We couldn’t do our job without them – it’s that simple,” he said, lamenting the Canadian government’s lack of action to protect former interpreters and their families, who are frequent targets of Taliban attacks.
“I have direct links into Afghanistan, so I know the things that are happening. I’ve seen pictures, I’ve seen videos, and it’s insane. There are mass executions, there are babies dying, there are young girls being raped and beaten in the streets.”
Where Canadian government officials have failed to protect former interpreters and their families, Burns said he and his fellow veterans have felt compelled to step in to pick up the slack – fighting tirelessly to not only bring them to safety in Canada, but also to support them upon their arrival.
“Just because your government fails, doesn’t mean you have an excuse to fail – we’re Canadian, so that means we get up and get to work,” he said.
“It’s a life and death situation for these people and their families, and…putting it off even for a few hours can mean the difference between life and death, because people are being murdered. So, let’s get to it – veterans and citizens of Canada have stepped up, I think it’s time for the government to follow suit.”
To learn more about Burns fundraising efforts on behalf of Kazimi, read a recent article by The Peterborough Examiner here.
Donate to Burns’ GoFundMe campaign here.