‘These people basically put their lives on the line’: Richmond Marathon runner helps Afghan refugees seek haven in US

Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 6:55 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - One avid runner participating in the VCU Health Richmond Marathon paused his training to make a different kind of trek.

Andrew Wenk is a pediatric nurse at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. In September, Wenk volunteered to take a flight across the world, giving medical treatment to hundreds of Afghan refugees seeking safe haven in the United States.

Within a couple of days of receiving an urgent call-for-help email about the effort, Wenk took a three-day hiatus from training with the Sports Backers’ Half Marathon Team.

Afghan Airlift was created as a volunteer mission where doctors, nurses and paramedics partnered with United Airlines and the Medical Society of Virginia to take refugees back to the U.S., giving them medical treatment along the way.

“Before you know it, I was leaving on a Tuesday night,” said Wenk.

Wenk boarded a flight to help 340 Afghans take a very unfamiliar form of transportation to a very unfamiliar country, where the Taliban would not seek them.

“These people basically had bounties over their heads if they didn’t leave Afghanistan,” he said. “They were very thankful from the time they got on the plane throughout the whole process.”

The refugees were some of the thousands fleeing all they ever knew after the Taliban took control at the end of the summer.

Many of the families were battling dehydration, nausea, diarrhea, cardiac issues, or kidney stones, on top of anxiety and fear. But Wenk’s medical skills ultimately came in second to a different kind of support he was able to give.

“The best thing I could do was wave at every child,” said Wenk. “They wanted you to sit down with them, either to play with their one toy or color with them... You don’t need to talk to be able to do that.”

Wenk helped offer a piece of assurance that these families were no longer in danger, even if their future in an unknown land was still very uncharted.

Wenk said he’s excited to participate in the marathon, with a new perspective after mission Afghan Airlift.

“It was life-changing to me because of the fact that these people helped our country… These people basically put their lives on the line… What I did was minor compared to what some of these people did,” said Wenk.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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