ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — With the Taliban’s return to power last summer came restrictions on human rights, freedoms for Afghan women, and a ban on girls’ education past the sixth grade. It was something one American musician who taught music in the war-torn country feared the most.
In 2014 Los Angeles-based musician Lanny Cordola visited Kabul, Afghanistan. He was so inspired that two years later, he moved there to begin teaching young Afghan girls how to play the guitar.
“We started off with four girls within two months. We had forty girls. Within a year, we had hundreds of girls,” said Cordola, founder of the Miraculous Love Kids.
Through the non-profit Miraculous Love Kids, he started the ‘Girl with a Guitar’ project - playing melodies with Afghan street children.
“Our model is wellbeing, education, and guitar,” said Cordola. “Part of the well-being is getting the girls off the street and giving them a stipend.”
But as thousands of Afghans tried to flee during the Taliban takeover last summer -- Cordola’s guitar girls became trapped.
“It was extremely desperate,” he said.
Cordola, surrounded by some of the girls who spent the last eight months trying to evacuate, spoke via video conference from neighboring Pakistan.
“It was really the perseverance and the tenacity of these girls and their and their families to get out of Afghanistan to have a better life and a better future,” said Cordola.
16-year-old Yasamin – whose nickname is ‘Jellybean’, was among the first to cross the border.
“We[‘re] out of that jail of Afghanistan to Pakistan. Right now, we[‘re] happy. And here we are starting to [perform] music and we[‘re] starting to study the book and good thing. And I'm very happy for this,” said Yasamin.
“You know, Jellybean, when she got here, the first thing she wanted to do was start working on getting the other girls here. So, she set up the whole plans, and I just okayed them,” said Cordola.
It took 18-year-old Salma and her brother five days to make it from Kandahar to Pakistan’s capital. But she says life in her home country had become too difficult.
“Life is very bad. I'm not going to go to school, not play[ing] the guitar, not going in the street. But right now, I'm very happy with Mr. Lanny, with my friend[s] in Pakistan,” said Salma.
The youngest in the group is 4-year-old Uzra.
“Uzra is going to come in the studio with us and make her recording debut,” said Cordola.
Over the last two months, they’ve been able to get three groups out - nine girls and a dozen of their family members.
“Next week, we're going to have six more coming, which will be four girls and two family members,” said Cordola.
The next step is to help these young girls plot out a resettlement plan.
“Wherever that may be -- in America or Europe or in a place where we can settle, “said Cordola. “And we're going to still have a presence here in Pakistan. We're still supporting hundreds of kids in Afghanistan. So, we're going to be all over the place.”
For now, Cordola is focused on helping more Afghan girls. He continues to raise funds and connect with anyone willing to help.