KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City, Missouri, woman is making a difference in the lives of Afghan refugees.
Kathy Sheppard worked as an administrator for William Jewell College and a realtor before deciding to teacher English in the Republic of Georgia as a Peace Corps volunteer in April 2019.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sheppard, along with other Peace Corps volunteers, were told they needed to leave immediately. But Sheppard decided to quit the Peace Corps and stay in the country of Georgia.
"I thought, 'I'll just stay here for a month or two until the pandemic ends,'" Sheppard said.
As the pandemic worsened, Sheppard connected with a nonprofit called Total Courage. The organization is made up of former American soldiers and citizens who focused on educating college and high school athletes. The pandemic had just taken away the group's client base.
Darryl "Dee" Daugherty, executive director of Total Courage, and Ret. Army Lt. Col. Todd Scattini, a Kansas City, Missouri, native, got connected through a mutual friend and decided to expand the organization's effort to humanitarian relief.
Scattini said he heard through a friend who was a former deputy ambassador to the Republic of Georgia about the pandemic's devastation in the country.
Sheppard soon became the country's coordinator for the nonprofit and the group worked to serve food to Georgian families, providing more than 12,000 meals. The group also provided medication and personal-protective equipment to Georgians in need.
Recently, Sheppard and Total Courage's focus turned to Afghan refugees when more than 180 Afghans – 80 of them children – stopped in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, for a few days.
"It was surreal," Sheppard said. "I've tried to think of other words to describe it, but it was absolutely surreal. We did our best to provide comfort, to provide things they needed, because they had nothing."
Sheppard said it's been difficult to wrap her head around the few days she spent with the refugees.
"You could tell they were tired, they were somber," she said. "They were kind of in shock."
Sheppard and other community volunteers helped set up Wi-Fi so the refugees could contact their families and provided basic necessities, like hair brushes for the women, toys for the children and showers.
She said she'll never forget the story from one Afghan father of five.
"Tears were streaming down his face because, it's going to make me cry, he said my friends didn't make it, my friends I worked with for 10 years, we were in the same position and they didn't make it," Sheppard said.
Sheppard will stay in Georgia for the time being, after making a trip home to Kansas City in October, and will help roll out a new program for young women to learn technology and innovation.
She said the experience helping Afghans is one she'll never forget.
"It just had such an impact that I felt like I was living in history," Sheppard said.
Scattini said one of the best ways Kansas Citians can support Total Courage's efforts is by donating or sponsoring their nonprofit.