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One year after evacuating Afghanistan, teen refugee pursues musical dreams


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: This month marks one year since the U.S. withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan. Since last August, the U.S. has evacuated 10s of 1000s of Afghan nationals to the U.S. Our student reporting labs, Alexis Schmidt tells the story of one refugee, who was pursuing her musical dreams thanks to a guitar donated through a youth led organization in Phoenix.

Elaha Nazar, Afghan Refugee (through translator): When I was nine years old, I got interested in playing guitar. But at the time I was living in Iran. I did not have the opportunity to own a guitar and play a guitar. And I went back to Afghanistan, there was not an opportunity at all for me to play the guitar.

Alexis Schmidt: When Elaha Nazar was 15 years old, her parents received visas to go to the U.S. but Elaha and her brother had to remain in Afghanistan.

Elaha Nazar (through translator): There were security problems for me to go to study or just being outside the house. Everything got messed up, everyone was afraid. I was afraid too.

No Name Given: The Taliban submit their hold on power in Afghanistan today. And they began to speak in detail about their plans for the country. Evacuations of civilians also resumed inside Kabul. There is fear and even panic over what the future may bring.

Elaha Nazar (through translator): When the Taliban came to Kabul, we luckily got an email from the U.S. Embassy. We got an email at 3 a.m. telling us to come to the airport without anything except a backpack and our documents.

I was checking my Instagram account and I came across the HeartBEATS organization. I read their posts on Instagram, and I got to know that they are giving instruments to people interested in music and contacted them.

Alexis Schmidt: HeartBEATS, a Phoenix organization was created by Riley Novak when she was only a sophomore in high school.

Riley Novak, Founder, HeartBEATS: HeartBEATS is a youth-led organization dedicated to creating meaningful connections between the refugee community and our volunteers through music. I think it's really important when a refugee arrives in the U.S., we acknowledge that they weren't able to bring their instruments with them, many of them can only bring one suitcase. And so just knowing the emotional benefit that playing your musical instrument has as someone who is a musician, and I know the relief I get when I play my instrument, being able to bring that back to them when they're in the U.S. is really important.

Alexis Schmidt: HeartBEATS collects musical instruments from around the Phoenix area. The guitar that Elaha received was donated by Christopher Bertram, a local musician.

Christopher Bertram, Musician: I got in touch with HeartBEATS, met HeartBEATS, like one of the more down moments in my life, music was kind of a, almost like a mindless like activity that I just kind of was going through the motions on. I know, for a fact, the timing of meeting HeartBEATS and donating that guitar re-sparked my passion for music, it was very easy to part with a lot more, you know, than just that guitar. Because I liked the idea of welcoming people that are just coming from wherever.

Elaha Nazar (through translator): I was really feeling good because I have never had a guitar of my own. And this guitar gives me the feeling like this is the place where I can go after my dreams. I will do my best to be good at music. And if I can, I want to do my Ph.D. in music in the U.S.

For me, music is a way of healing. And more importantly, it's a way of connecting with other people, whether that's the refugee community whether that's with your friends, to me, music is the perfect way to facilitate a friendship.

I feel really good playing music, I feel freedom. I feel like myself, I can share the music with others and be happy.

Alexis Schmidt: For PBS News Weekend and Student Reporting labs, this is Alexis Schmidt in Phoenix.

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