THERE WAS A family in need, and California hotelier Sunil “Sunny” Tolani could not stand by and idly watch. So, he took action, even though the family was thousands of miles away in Afghanistan.
A young girl’s life was literally at stake.
And now, Tolani is joining an effort to help other refugees from the war-torn country.
It began when Tolani saw the story in the Wall Street Journal of Najiba, a 3-year-old girl who was facing being sold to a man to cover her family’s $550 debt to the man. Najiba’s mother, Saleha, is a housecleaner in western Afghanistan earning only 70 cents a day cleaning homes and her elderly husband does not work at all, according to the non-profit Afghan Assist.
Saleha has six children altogether and also raises the children of her sister who died in childbirth. Najiba would not marry the man to whom the family owes money, the charity said.
“She will clean house until she reaches puberty, then he will marry her to one of his sons,” Afghan Assist said.
Tolani said the tragic story stirred him to step in with a donation to the family through Afghan Assist.
“I was outraged that a 3-year-old Afghan girl was traded to a man because her mom couldn’t afford a $550 debt offering to pay off the full $550 debt to reunite Saleha with her daughter,” Tolani said. “If we can give this family their daughter back this Diwali season, we will be blessed. Everything is hard, but nothing is impossible.”
Afghan Assist has raised more than $64,000 so far. The charity plans to use some of the money to help other families in similar situations. Such arrangements have grown into a humanitarian crisis since the Taliban seized power on Aug. 15.
Tolani now has joined the U.S.-based Tent Coalition for Afghan Refugees to create economic opportunities for Afghan refugees who have come to the U.S. Other companies providing job opportunities, training and other resources for Tent Coalition include InterContinental Hotels Group and Hilton, along with Amazon, Facebook, Pfizer, and Tyson Foods.
“America is at a critical juncture, and every part of our society must play its part to welcome our Afghan brothers and sisters. They have stood by our side, and we must stand by theirs,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO of Chobani and Founder of the Tent Partnership for Refugees. “I am so proud of the businesses stepping up today — and hope that many more will join our coalition. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — the moment a refugee gets a job, it’s the moment they stop being a refugee. It’s the moment they can stand on their own two feet; it’s the moment they can make new friends; it’s the moment they can start a new life.”
Tolani’s company, the Prince Organization, already is involved in multiple outreach and charitable activities.
“As part of our diverse workforce, Prince Organization continually hires immigrants and refugees across the company, and we’re proud to partner with Tent to extend our reach,” he said.
Hilton was one of the first companies to join the Tent Partnership in 2018, the company said in a statement. As part of its environmental, social and governance program Travel with Purpose, the company has pledged to help 16,000 refugees by 2030 through employment, hospitality training programs and procurement from refugee-run businesses. It has aided 11,000 refugees since 2015 as part of that program.
IHG said the company is honored to participate in the Tent Coalition, calling it an important and timely effort.
“We’re working quickly on this initiative, including rolling out work readiness and skills programs for refugees and guidance and resources for IHG-branded hotels across the country,” IHG said in a statement. “Career opportunities at IHG hotels include various frontline roles such as food and beverage, housekeeping and operations support, among other areas.”
The Tent Coalition said a recent survey found 81 percent of Americans think the U.S. should help Afghans who worked with the U.S. military. The governors of Utah, Arkansas and Colorado have welcomed Afghan refugees. The coalition also partners with Welcome.US, a national initiative to engage and mobilize all Americans to welcome and support Afghan refugees.