Juneau business hosts fundraiser for employee’s family in Afghanistan

Harris Monsef, who attends high school in Juneau, started working for Alaska Probiotics this summer. The company is hosting a fundraiser to help Monsef's family in Afghanistan.
Harris Monsef, who attends high school in Juneau, started working for Alaska Probiotics this summer. The company is hosting a fundraiser to help Monsef’s family in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Kaila Buerger)

While the unrest in Afghanistan seems far away to some Americans, for one of Juneau’s families, the crisis hits close to home. Sima Shoja has lived in Juneau since 2008, but her loved ones are living in fear in Afghanistan. 

“Nobody can get out [of Afghanistan],” Shoja said. “Basically, they’re prisoners in their homes.” 

Shoja’s husband died of cancer in January of 2021, just months before the Taliban took over Afghanistan, and his side of the family still lives there.

“If [my husband] was here, he would absolutely help his family,” Shoja said. “My son tells me ‘if my dad was here, he probably would’ve done a lot more, mom.’ But we try as much as we can.”

Sima Shoja (second from left) is a Juneau resident who has family in Afghanistan. She's partnering with the team at Alaska Probiotics to raise money for her loved ones overseas.
Sima Shoja (second from left) is a Juneau resident who has family in Afghanistan. She’s partnering with the team at Alaska Probiotics to raise money for her loved ones overseas. (Photo courtesy of Kaila Buerger)

Some of Shoja’s family members can’t go to school, others are unable to work and the boys can’t leave the house for fear of being recruited by the Taliban. Shoja is able to talk to her family, but they speak in code, just in case their conversations are being monitored.

“We can’t name the Taliban or some other groups so we made our own words for them,” Shoja said. “You can hear from their voice what they want to tell you. Every time I talk to them, I cry when I hang up.”

Shoja’s son, Harris Monsef attends high school in Juneau. He started working for Alaska Probiotics this summer, where he met owner Kaila Buerger. When Buerger heard about Monsef’s ties to Afghanistan, she knew she wanted to help.

Sima Shoja is a Juneau resident who has family in Afghanistan. She's selling some of her Afghan cuisine to raise money to help them.
Shoja is selling some of her Afghan cuisine to raise money for her family overseas. (Photo courtesy of Kaila Buerger)

“I think oftentimes we hear about these crises overseas and there’s a disconnect because we’re not witnessing it right in front of us,” Buerger said. “Having community members with these connections just makes it a little more real.”

Alaska Probiotics will host a fundraiser on Saturday at its storefront on Franklin Street. Shoja will be selling Afghan cuisine for $15 a plate from 4 to 7:30 p.m.

“[Shoja] is a fabulous cook,” Buerger said. “She made us some recipes to taste that she’ll be making for the event and they’re delicious.”

Local artists have donated some pieces to be sold at the event and additional donations will be accepted through cash, check or Venmo (@Sima-Shoja). 

“This is not only my voice,” Shoja said. “It’s my family’s and my country’s voice. These are innocent people. Some people think all Afghans are terrorists, but we’re not. We’re just normal, regular people.”

Bridget Dowd

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I keep tabs on what’s happening in Juneau’s classrooms for the families they serve and the people who work in them. My goal is to shine a light on both stories of success and the cracks that need to be filled, because I believe a good education is the basis of a strong community.

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