KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The crisis in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover nearly two years ago has had lasting and far-reaching effects. Many people have fled to other areas, dozens have come to Knoxville.
A handful of people have been able to flee the country and a group of women’s basketball players are scheduled to make their new home here in East Tennessee.
They’re getting help from several organizations and a Lady Vol Champion.
“It’s a moral responsibility for us to try and get them here in Knoxville safely but to allow them the opportunity to pursue their education, to pursue jobs, and just to pursue their dreams of being a human being that deserves the dignity that I know Knoxville people and the University of Tennessee can give them,” said Michelle Marciniak, a two-time NCAA National Champion and 1996 Final Four MVP with the Tennessee Lady Vols.
Now, she along with former Dr. Sarah Hillyer, director of UT’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society and a former Virginia Tech basketball player, advocate for other female athletes who haven’t had the same opportunities.
“If their only crime is the pursuit of education and the love of basketball and they are looking for a permanent home, a community that will accept them and love them and welcome them, we cannot imagine any place better than Knoxville, Tennessee,” Hillyer said.
They’re working with Bridge Refugee Services to help with the resettlement of several of these Afghan women athletes.
“They’ve come to us through a specific program that allows them entry through a refugee status to an area that either has us tied or a population base that will be the most worthwhile to them,” Bridge Refugee Services Development and Communication Director Noah McBrayer Jones said.
These women have the opportunity to study at UT through scholarship funds such as the UT’s English Language Institute. They will also be able to apply for US Citizenship.
However, as Jones, Hillyer, and Marciniak have witnessed, the road to freedom is long.
“When our refugee clients are coming in they’re coming in with about a $1,000 to their name to spend in that first 120-day period,” Jones said.
Jones, Hillyer, and Marciniak are asking for volunteers and resources to serve these women and other refugees in need.
Hillyer said, “Volunteers is number one,” Hillyer said. “I would say educational funding would probably be number three, not to skip over, but number two would be household items.”
The love of basketball is bringing all of these women together and it’s the fight for freedom that keeps them going.
In 2021, through Bridge and the Afghan placement assistance program, nearly 40 Afghan refugees were placed here in Knoxville.
Here are a few ways you can get involved and links with more information: