Former CIA officer surrendered life dream to help Afghan refugees resettle in US

Hundreds of Afghan refugees helped by FAMIL, nonprofit founded by former CIA officer

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Geeta Bakshi abandoned her lifelong dream of attending Georgetown Law after watching the towers fall on Sept. 11. Sensing a higher calling, she instead joined the CIA and spent years in Afghanistan hunting al Qaeda.

Fourteen years later, Bakshi left the agency to once again pursue her goal. But when Afghanistan collapsed soon after, she knew she had to help the people who risked their lives for America.

"When everything unfolded in Afghanistan, when we saw what was happening there, I put my law school books aside and decided that this was going to be where I dedicated my heart and soul," Bakshi told Fox News.

For a second time, she abandoned her dream to serve what she considered a higher purpose.

FAMIL co-founder Geeta Bakshi collects bread for Afghan refugees.

FAMIL co-founder Geeta Bakshi collects bread for Afghan refugees. (Courtesy FAMIL)

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"When this evacuation took place and when the crisis kind of unfolded with the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, I felt compelled to raise my hand and to volunteer with existing groups that were part of this resettlement effort," Bakshi said.

"Recognizing that more help was needed, myself and some very close friends of mine who had experienced the resettlement process or had worked on the ground in Afghanistan at different times, we put our hearts together," she continued.

They quickly founded FAMIL to help hundreds of Afghan refugees resettle in the U.S. Bakshi said when her group went onto a U.S. military base to hold an integration course – one of their first efforts – they expected only a small handful of Afghans to attend.

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"We were welcomed by over 200 individuals," Bakshi said. "And that was because the team that we went with, a lot of us had touched the lives of these Afghans in different times and different places."

"And so we had that trust. We had that rapport with them," she continued. "And every time we've gone back after that, we've been welcomed by hundreds."

Bakshi, like many Americans who served in Afghanistan, formed tight bonds with Afghans she worked beside.

"I was blessed to meet some extremely talented Afghans and extremely dedicated Afghans," Bakshi told Fox News. "Afghan allies have committed countless unbelievable acts of heroism for the sake of the U.S.A."

She described meeting one Afghan who found a Navy SEAL’s corpse and brought it to a U.S. base, risking Taliban encounters. He later joined the Afghan government and eventually fled to the U.S., where FAMIL is helping him resettle.

Geeta Bakshi, a former CIA officer, with Afghan children.

Geeta Bakshi, a former CIA officer, with Afghan children. (Courtesy FAMIL)

"They have protected American lives. In some cases, they were killed," Bakshi said. "But for those who escaped death and made it to America, they now have a second chance at life, and they're extremely grateful for that."

"FAMIL wants to stand next to them and help them … find success in their American journey," she said.

Bakshi and the others who formed FAMIL felt they owed these Afghan allies a debt that needed to be repaid.

"I come from a family where we believe a lot in giving back to others, and I often say I want the opportunity to give to others as I've been given," she said.

Others behind FAMIL include veterans and former intelligence professionals, like Bakshi, who was previously a counterterrorism officer.

"We have bonds with the Afghan allies that served in Afghanistan, that protected Americans and that will continue to be loyal to America even here as they integrate into their communities," Bakshi told Fox News.

"The group that started FAMIL is small but incredibly dedicated," she said. "Our volunteer program includes individuals who had resettled here in previous years who understand the ins and outs of the resettlement."

Bakshi said those experiences make FAMIL uniquely able to help Afghan refugees.

"We know how to deal with the nuances of the [Afghan] population," she told Fox News. "We know how to provide the type of support that they truly need because we understand that culture."

"We understand what's behind their traditions and we have shared experiences with them," Bakshi added.

Geeta Bakshi, a former CIA officer, in Afghanistan.

Geeta Bakshi, a former CIA officer, in Afghanistan.

FAMIL aims to assist Afghan refugees in three primary ways: securing employment for adults; enrolling adults and children alike into education programs; and integrating families into local communities.

"We're actually visiting the U.S. military bases where a lot of the allies are temporarily housed," Bakshi told Fox News. "We have classes on integration into America at these bases, and then from there we try to establish a means of helping families as they are resettled into their new communities."

She said FAMIL aims to ensure that refugees of all ages have full access to "expand on their education," so they can "pursue certain vocational training," "increase their English language capabilities," and in some cases "achieve literacy."

"One of the things that we're really focused on is trying to identify employment opportunities that are consistent or suitable to the skills and the talents of Afghan allies and their families," Bakshi told Fox News. "We are having a lot of … dialogs with corporations that have employment opportunities across the US."

But Afghan refugees, Bakshi said, are also in need of something less concrete: moral support. FAMIL is "well-positioned with our skill set to be able to provide that moral support," since its volunteers have such close ties and understanding to Afghanistan, Bakshi told Fox News.

"Afghans who survived and have a second chance of life here in the U.S. are so grateful to be here," Bakshi said. "They are really struggling with the uncertainty of whether they will ever see their loved ones again."

To her, success is seeing a self-sufficient Afghan family fully integrated into their new community and helping others acclimate.

Bakshi thinks it will take years for this, "simply because it's such a massive volume" of refugee families. But she’s not deterred.

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"We are wholeheartedly dedicated to doing this work because it's the right thing to do," Bakshi told Fox News. "It is an overwhelming feeling in a good way, seeing what we've been able to accomplish in such a short time and how tremendous this need is."

"What we're really hoping to do is to scale and expand because this need is going to keep growing as more and more families get resettled," she added.

Visit FAMIL’s website if you’re interested in helping Bakshi’s cause.

Isabelle McDonnell contributed to the accompanying video.