As Afghanistan has fallen into chaos and terror under the Taliban, American mom Allyson Reneau has mobilized her personal network to help 10 girls from the Afghanistan All Girl Robotics Team escape to freedom. Now, after receiving world-wide coverage of this story, Allyson is being inundated with texts from Afghan professional women (lawyers, judges and others) who are fearful for their lives. Hear how she’s making a difference, and what you can do to help, in this exclusive We Get Real AF podcast interview.
Find Allyson Reneau Online:
Info about Allyson on Facebook
Afghan All Girl Robotics Team Facebook Page
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We Get Real AF Podcast Credits:
Producers & Hosts: Vanessa Alava & Sue Robinson
Audio Producer/Editor: Sam Mclean
Audio Music Track Title: Beatles Unite
Artist: Rachel K. Collier
Intro Voice-Over Artist: Veronica Horta
Cover Artwork Photo Credit: Alice Moore
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The We Get Real AF Podcast is a production of MicDrop Creative, telling stories that uplift, inspire and empower women worldwide. www.micdropcreative.com
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Welcome to a special edition of the we get real AF podcast everyone. I'm Vanessa Alava.
Sue Robinson 1:01
And I'm Sue Robinson. Please remember to like, comment, and subscribe to our wonderful podcast wherever you listen.
Vanessa Alava 1:08
In light of the harrowing events taking place in Afghanistan with the recent fall to the Taliban. Soon I feel a deep responsibility to support the women and girls that have been and will be affected by this tragic situation. Historically, the Taliban have had very little to no regard for women's rights, education and basic freedoms based on a skewed interpretation of Islamic otherwise known as Sharia law, which is the militant groups governing framework. And although Taliban leaders are promising a new inclusive movement of peace and respect toward women's their words feel hollow and hopeless to those who have known the oppression and violence that traditionally comes with their rule of which honoring women is tenuous. We will be sharing our platform with those who are currently on the ground Afghanistan, those who have evacuated in those who are using the resources and networks to help women and their families escape a life bound by the extremist Taliban rule.
Sue Robinson 2:00
Our guest today is Alison Renaud, a woman who gets it done. Allison is so impressive on so many fronts. She holds a Master's from Harvard and international relations with a focus on Space Policy. She's a TEDx speaker, a professional gymnastics coach. And most importantly for our conversation today, Allison is the Oklahoma mom of 11, who has played a pivotal role in helping the Afghan girls robotics team escaped from Afghanistan, as the misogynistic Taliban regime has retaken the country. As of this recording, 10 girls have made it safely to Qatar with things looking hopeful for the rest of their teammates to follow. This is an inspiring story that has been all over the news. And Alison is also here to tell us about the next group of Afghan women that she's working very hard to help escape from Afghanistan. Alison, we are so honored to have you here with us on weight graph, you're an example of what one woman can accomplished with the power of her voice, grit, and a whole lot of text messaging to activate your network. Thanks for joining us.
Unknown Speaker 3:01
It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you for this opportunity. I really appreciate it.
Vanessa Alava 3:05
Absolutely. As we're giving this introduction, I get goosebumps. And I'm again, just so appreciative of your time and all of your efforts. Let's start at the beginning here with your relationship to the team.
Unknown Speaker 3:18
Well, as you mentioned, to your viewers, I'm the biological mother of 11 children, nine daughters, two sons, all with one man to say that, and you know, after raising my children, and just doing all the things we do as moms, we fold underwear and, and try to hurry to get food on the table and rush them to their baseball practices and the things they love. There was a longing feeling inside of me that came on me around 48 years old, that was like I want my life to matter. I want to make an impact on this planet. I want to make a dent before I leave, our lives are so short. And I just was searching for the avenue for that. And it came to me that I needed to get my education. So I didn't even have my bachelor's degree at 48. So I scurried around and got my bachelor's degree in communications at the University of Oklahoma, compacted into a very short amount of time, and then went on to Harvard at 50 years old, and graduated in 2016, as you said, with the International Relations Master's in international relations with a focus in US base policy. Well, from there, the doors kind of swung open into the space industry. And the heartbeat of a lot of that is in Washington, DC. And I not only was able to spend some time at NASA headquarters in the international department, but also with the FAA, FAA commercial spaceflight office, which does a lot of the launch regulations for all the companies you know about SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, it's just been an amazing journey that sometimes I just scratch my head and say I didn't really deserve to be there. But this is for The women, this message today is for all the women who think they're too old, there's always a second chance in life. So I just want to let everybody know, just don't give up on your dreams, mine came to pass very late in life. But I was also invited to be part of a very prestigious organization called explore Mars. And each year, we host a conference in Washington, DC. And it's called the human to Mars summit. We invited the five Afghan girls to come be a part of the conference, we had a sponsor that paid their way over. And we just one of them that have the chance to immerse themselves in the space world, to brush shoulders with astronauts and leaders in the industry. And just give them the opportunity to, you know, know, their dreams can come true. Well, being a mom of nine daughters, I just kind of took a liking to them. And I think it was mutual. And we've kept in touch since May of 2019, just by text. And in December, they began to reach out to me that they were going to graduate from high school, and they wanted to pursue their college education in the United States, could I help them find a scholarship? So that's kind of the background of my relationship with the girls.
Sue Robinson 6:13
I'm the mom of three daughters, Vanessa has one little girl. So just really appreciate, you know, everything you're saying about wanting to empower women and girls and just be a light to them. Over the past few months, obviously, you started to hear things and see things, as we all did, were changing in Afghanistan. And tell us a little bit about how you came back into their lives in such a pivotal and critical way to help them get out of the country.
Allyson Reneau 6:40
Thank you for asking. Well, you know, we're moms, mom of 3 and a mom of one. And we have instincts that we we have instincts about our children. I woke up on Tuesday, August 3, with an overwhelming dreadful feeling that they were in danger. This was really prior to the collapse. At this point, you know, a lot of people were saying everything will be fine, we'll exit, you know, without any problems. And but I couldn't shake it all day. And there was a feeling of urgency, and a feeling of do it now. I knew I needed to get ahold of very powerful and influential people to make this happen. And honestly, you know, I'm, I'm not that well connected. But I was armed with a couple of things that women seem to do well, and that's courage, and a cause. And when we get a cause down in our heart, we're pretty unstoppable. Right? So for two weeks, I, I kept getting good leads, and then they go cold, good leads, and then they go cold. And I reached out also to their leader and their mentor. And I was counting yesterday, there's 400 text messages between her and I, before their actual, you know, they were actually out. And she was working on all fronts in her her lane. And I was working on all fronts in my lane in the United States. She's originally from Afghanistan, and lives in New York City. And so you know, it takes a team to make the dream. And I never want to just say it was just me certainly wasn't at all. But we were 24 seven, just trying and seeing what we could do. Finally, you know, there's a kind of a universal law, if you if you're hitting a brick wall over and over again, then do something drastic take some massive action. And sometimes the doors will open. So I decided I bought a one way ticket to Qatar, we seem to have some promise that we could get them there. And I was thinking, I don't want them to arrive they're alone. They're gonna leave their families, they're gonna leave everything behind. And I want to be there and I want to if I if I have to put pressure on somewhere, somebody, I'm going to I'm going to go to Qatar. So before I went, I called a friend of mine, who was a former roommate in Washington, DC a couple of years ago. And my reason for calling her was simply, I go jogging every day, what do I wear in Doha? How do I dress? Where do I stay? And she said, Well, what's going on? And I explained to her what was going on? And she said, “Oh, did you know I work in the US Embassy in Qatar?” I said, “No”, she said, I have the ear of the chief of staff there. Send me the girl's information. This is an amazing group of women, we need to help them. So I got their passport information from their their mentor and forwarded on to her and she went to the embassy after hours at midnight and worked all night long until 6am putting together all of their visas all their packets, everything they needed and presented it to the Chief of Staff and lo and behold that little connection right there blew this thing wide open and they activated people on the ground in Kabul. They wanted pictures of where the girls are staying. I think they were really willing to go get them. But in the meantime, my other friend who was working on her side received word from Qatar government that they would help evacuate the girls. So it was a mad rush to the airport is the girls went with the Qatari transportation, along with US officials rushing to the airport to flank them. If something went wrong, we had two avenues working at the same time. So that's what happened. That's how the connection was made. It was just a, just like the hand of Providence, because, Vanessa and Sue, when you think about the chaotic sea of 8 million people in a boat, not counting the refugees that were there. It happened there, just on the days you saw those images of the overrun of the airport. And it's just unbelievable that they actually, they actually were able to get out of there at that time, in particular. But hats off to the Qatari government. Wow. Gave them asylum brought him there, and put them in in Panama are taking care of them.
Allyson Reneau 10:59
so I didn't fly, I canceled my flight. Because the threat my friend, and the embassy said, No need you stay on the ground, you keep the communication going. I've got this. So but sometimes, like I said, when you take that action, suddenly, something miraculous happens. And you just when you're chasing a dream, you'd like to take those big steps,
Vanessa Alava 11:21
you put it out into the universe like this is this is I know system passion, persistence, passion, passion and drive. Definitely played into this. Can you elaborate a little bit? I know we mentioned the the girls that have made it out are 10. Right. We still have a few of them still on the ground in Afghanistan?
Allyson Reneau 11:42
I think so I want to say that the girls that you see sometimes in the pictures aren't necessarily the ones that got out. And they maybe maybe the ones that did, but the team was actually made up of several girls. I don't know if it was 35, 40 or 50. I became aware that there was more as we their mentor and I communicated. So I don't have an exact number. Right. But I know there's process going on to get the remainder out if they're not already out, now, I'm not too sure. At this point. And the reason is, as we'll talk later, is to shift in focus. as we as we had success with these, it's there's so many people that need help.
Vanessa Alava 12:17
Well, can you elaborate on that I know that you had an influx of messages on social media, and anybody that might have a connection to you via text as well. Other women and girls that are trying to protect themselves and their families. Can you speak on that?
Allyson Reneau 12:34
Yes, thank you. Thank you for asking about that as well. Due to the the surprise media coverage on this that I didn't expect, I began to get desperate messages from professional women, professional, educated women, with families in Afghanistan, that had been fired from their jobs had received all received threatening letters from the Taliban - stamped and marked, multiple letters, and had to flee their homes and are in hiding in not so wonderful places. And when you when you see the messages on receiving the fact that some are being pulled out being shot, they're being hunted. And some are getting beat up to the point of death. You leap into action again, you start all over. I don't and it's not the same. The interesting thing is, I have to start from scratch again. I don't I you know, I'm not the one that had the connection with the Qatari government. You know, this is this is different. This is more than 200 women, not just ten. So this was a whole different request, first of all, to God. And then second, I just began to try again, and it's coming together. I keep in touch with these women every day, bring them hope. Let them know they're valuable. Let them know that they matter. Let them know that we can get this done, and we're not going to leave on one of them behind. I really believe when we get these, this next group of women out, these women are world changers. they also will feel indebted honestly, to share their message of hope with others and to help break the back of this oppression over women worldwide.
Sue Robinson 14:25
You mentioned on our call yesterday, Allyson, that there's sort of a Schindler's List going of of these women that really are desperately seeking help. And I think so many of us are watching the news and wanting to help and wanting to be involved, but at the same time feeling like this feels like a half a world away. So foreign in every single way to how we think here in the US, and how can we help and how can we be involved? So you're a shining example of just do it, like just go out and do it but what are your suggestions for other folks who are listening or watching right now for how they might be able to join you in this effort?
Allyson Reneau 15:03
Well, I think, you know, one thing I want to address is people may be thinking, why aren't you rescuing Americans? Because I don't know any there. And believe me, if I did, I would help. But it seems to me that my my purpose must be to rescue Afghan women. And as far as helping, if anybody has resources, I mean, what what the resources I'm needing right now are I actually was offered airplanes just a few minutes ago. It's big things we need, we need safe passage to the airport. Security, people that know how to get people from where they're hiding to into the airport. And Air Flight them out, I have a great friend who's an NASA attorney, she's amazing who's putting together all the passports for these, these professional women. And compiling that Yale Law School is also helping with all the data entry, people are leaping into action right now. I would say stay tuned. We need asylum in a country that will accept them, if anybody has any, any connections there. And then from there, you think when they begin to go to the countries they're in, they're going to need some financial assistance. So I might put up a, you know, a donation page at that point. I do have one on my Facebook right now. It's just on my Facebook page, Allyson, Renaud. I'm just a regular person. I'm not some public figure. But you'll see the link. And I haven't checked how much there is. But last time I checked, I think there was over $50,000, I won't take a penny out of that. I don't need administrative costs of any kind. And we'll make sure those people have what they need.
Vanessa Alava 16:41
Allison, what would you like to say to the service men and women out there right now?
Thank you. Well, my oldest son, my number one, I numbered them, you know, number one, and number two, number three, Well, number one, was on a full baseball scholarship in 2001, in college, and when 9-11 happened, he dropped that scholarship and was compelled to join the military and to join this war on terror. And he participated in this war for seven years. And, you know, I don't want his service to his sacrifice to be wasted. He has lost because of it permanent loss loss he'll have for the rest of his life. And he's not the only one. It's so I just really want to dedicate the lives of the women that I get a chance to save to all these courageous and sacrificing members of our military. I just want them to know that their their labor is not in vain, and their sacrifice is not wasted.
Sue Robinson 17:39
Indeed, Allyson, a huge part of our mission on the We Get Real AF podcast, and with MicDrop Creative, which is the company that Vanessa and I have started to support. amplifying women's voices worldwide, is to really help women. And people who are marginalized, feel empowered to use their voices feel empowered to make that difference, feel empowered to do what Allyson Reneau did, and have that gut instinct and go, you know what, I can do something here. And you since you are the person you've done that, I would just like to ask what it is like to be that way, what is like to be a person who started a movement at such a critical time? And what you know how you help other people? How are you could you pour into other people to be that way? And then just in general, what do you want to say to the world about the potential that women and girls bring and why we need to really elevate their voices in places like Afghanistan and around the world.
There's a couple of reasons. One, I think when women are in leadership, they bring a we love the brothers, we love the man, we're not feminists here, we appreciate them too. But when you eliminate the women from the picture, or don't allow them to become the best version of themselves, you're eliminating 50% of your manpower to get a job done. And because we're hardwired with maternal instincts and compassion, we also bring that into our leadership skills, as we are are charged to do something. I think also that it's normal for us to feel unqualified, to feel awkward to feel like we're not good enough. And even when you feel those voices, voice of fear, I think you just got to press on anyway. Because there is a higher power that will help your dream to come true. You know, I always say God to my kids got to meet you halfway. You got to do your part.
Vanessa Alava 19:36
Well, we are in awe of your inspiring story, the things that you continue to do. We wish you an abundant amount of support from everyone and we urge anyone that's listening to please step up to the plate if there's anything that you can do in those areas that Allison pointed out, you know, safe passage The airport, expediting of any type of visas and password, pass passports and minutia red tape, and that in that regard, please, please, please reach out, reach out to us. And we're happy to reach out to Allyson and make that connection. We just want to help in any way we can. So we encourage everyone else to do the same
Sue Robinson 20:21
100% so much. Also want to add, because I know a lot of the the women that you're working to help right now are in the legal profession over there that I know that there are bar associations and legal organizations here in the US that might want to help with visa processing and things like that as well. So that's just an idea that I'm putting out there for anybody who might be listening who can help in that regard. And yes, please stay in touch with us, Allyson, and thank you so much for your time today
and for what your does take a village doesn't it? All right, well, thank you ladies so much for all that you do and for empowering women. And we're just getting started and we're gonna break the back of this thing worldwide now. Okay, so we'll all team together and support each other. And you're very appreciated. Thank you. God bless.