OTIS — From a house right here on this hill city, a daring, harmful, difficult and finally profitable rescue effort was coordinated starting final August. It made worldwide information. It’s music to the ears of the world.
The denouement got here on Dec. 13, when a neighborhood of faculty youngsters from the Afghanistan Nationwide Institute of Music (ANIM) landed in Lisbon, Portugal — to security, freedom and a future far afield from one that will have demanded their silence.
Lesley Friedman Rosenthal, a part-time resident of Otis, was in Portugal to greet them. So was Jessica Lustig, a part-time resident of Nice Barrington.
“It was outstanding to observe the younger music college students, their college and households come off the aircraft,” mentioned Rosenthal, president of the United States-based Pals of ANIM. “These 273 people, whose names, delivery dates and nationwide ID numbers I had helped work by means of so many lists for presidency companies, and about whose lives and security I had been so involved prior to now 4 months, instantly appeared earlier than us, with a glance on their faces I can solely describe as hopefulness.”
Rosenthal and Lustig make up two-thirds of the board members of Pals of ANIM, the charitable group that, starting in 2016, has supported the college, the primary and solely music academy in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.
The college, which was inaugurate in 2010, had gained worldwide fame for educating Afghan and Western music to a co-ed scholar physique towards the backdrop of threats from the Taliban, the militant Islamist regime that had prohibited nonreligious music outright when it led Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
The third member of Pals of ANIM is the college’s founder and director, Dr. Ahmad Naser Sarmast, who nonetheless suffers the bodily results following a Taliban assault on his faculty in 2014.
The philanthropic efforts of Pals of ANIM took a dramatic flip in August upon the withdrawal of U.S. army troops within the nation and the following consolidation of management by the Taliban.
Rosenthal, who serves as chief working officer of The Juilliard College, the performing arts conservatory in New York Metropolis, and Lustig, the founding father of a New York Metropolis-based publicity, advocacy and consulting enterprise, engaged in round the clock efforts to help Dr. Sarmast in rescuing the college.
They reached out and obtained the assist of political leaders, army veterans, lecturers, and artists, together with native musicians Yo Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax.
“It grew to become clear, simply in a matter of days, that the one solution to salvage the college was to truly do a mass evacuation and airlift of your complete faculty neighborhood,” Rosenthal mentioned.
Within the meantime, movies started surfacing of Taliban members making a public present of destroying musical devices. The Taliban had taken over the college campus.
“They’d appropriated laptops with scholar data. They wouldn’t enable Dr. Sarmast and the scholars to go in and take their devices again,” Rosenthal mentioned. “And we have now pictures of devices being smashed and of faculty amenities being occupied by armed Taliban members with Kalashnikovs. I imply, simply actually heartbreaking.”
She described the rescue efforts as frantic.
Certainly, information studies from Kabul informed of how seven busloads of individuals related to the college had been left ready on the airport for 17 hours, unable to board their aircraft amid fears of a terrorist assault. With that in thoughts, the evacuation efforts grew to become much less conspicuous; the efforts moved extra slowly and comprised waves of smaller teams.
In the long run, the evacuation consisted of 5 airlift flights of 273 faculty members (together with college students, employees and quick household) over a six-week interval from Oct. 2 by means of late November.
The primary cease was Doha, in Qatar, whose authorities offered shelter and helped negotiate with the Taliban to make sure secure passage. Then, the college neighborhood flew on Dec. 13 to Portugal, the place they’ve been supplied asylum.
“Pals of ANIM is now working to reestablish the college in Portugal in order that Afghan music and music training can proceed for the women and boys of the ANIM neighborhood,” mentioned Rosenthal.
Rosenthal and Lustig had by no means imagined that their charitable efforts to assist a college 7,000 miles away would ever come to this — basically to establishing a struggle room within the Berkshires within the 12 months 2021.
The Afghanistan Nationwide Institute of Music first entered their lives when college students from the institute got here to america by means of a cultural trade program sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2013.
On the time, Lustig’s agency, 21C Media Group, dealt with preparations for the tour, and Rosenthal’s son was learning music at a public faculty in Scarsdale, N.Y., the place the household has a house. As a part of this system, the Afghan scholar musicians had been paired up with native highschool orchestras, together with Scarsdale’s, for a collection of concert events in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.
“And we completely fell in love with these college students and with the entire gist of the college, which is to make musical rights obtainable to each little one no matter ethnic background, financial standing or gender and to revive the cultural rights to the Afghan folks,” mentioned Rosenthal.
She famous that most of the Afghan college students at the moment had been born throughout Taliban rule. When the U.S. and its allies eliminated the Taliban from energy starting on Oct. 7, 2001, the U.S. State Division, the World Financial institution, the Royal Academy of Arts in London, amongst others, finally rallied across the efforts of Sarmast to kind a college for women and boys educating music and lecturers.
The live performance collection in 2013 and the following publicity “didn’t endear the college to the Taliban,” Rosenthal mentioned. Although the Taliban was not in energy, it remained a menacing drive.
Proof of that got here in December 2014, with a suicide bomb assault at a scholar live performance that killed an viewers member and injured many others. Sarmast needed to be airlifted to Australia for remedy. His listening to has been completely broken.
“The wants had been clear,” mentioned Lustig. “He had threats to his life and threats to his faculty.”
With the formation of Pals of ANIM in 2016, Sarmast and his employees and college students would come to know that the world has his again.
In June 2021, college students on the faculty had begun to expertise the next diploma of harassment and a way of imminent hazard. Sarmast spoke to Rosenthal and Lustig then about the necessity to construct a wall across the faculty for cover.
However by early August, he realized a wall wouldn’t almost be sufficient. On the eve of the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Sarmast once more reached out to his expensive pals Rosenthal and Lustig, who promptly set to work.
“It is clear that the music isn’t welcome in Afghanistan,” Sarmast informed Nationwide Public Radio in December. “From the day that the Taliban returned again to Kabul, you see that Afghanistan has been [turned] as soon as once more right into a silent nation.”
When the college neighborhood landed in Portugal, its members included new child child boys and grandparents of their 80s. And among the many scant belongings salvaged from their homeland had been some musical devices.
That features widespread Western classical devices, but additionally conventional Afghan devices. The drums are referred to as tablas and dhols. The plucked string devices are referred to as rubabs. Afghan music is a world unto itself — a multi-ethnic mash-up that leans heavy towards Persian melodies and poetry.
Portugal, meet Afghanistan.