SUPPORTING AFGHAN REFUGEES
When Lughmani learned of the conditions of Afghan refugees at military installations across the nation, he wanted to take action. “Aid organizations have a prolonged process they must follow, so the Haas Veterans Club took matters into its own hands,” he says. “Leaning on our military, veteran, and Afghan networks, we started a collection drive and identified communities across northern California to directly deliver aid to.”
While Lughmani focused his efforts on helping at-risk Afghans evacuate the country, the Haas Veterans Club members drove the refugee initiative. Their drive collected clothing, household appliances, personal care items, and baby supplies for refugees — totaling over 5,000 items. Lughmani says that his classmates Livia Johnson and Dillon Freeman led the entire effort for the refugee collection drive. Plus, Haas students pitched in to help put up flyers across campus, transport items from the collection point to the storage facility, and even collect items from their neighbors.
“When we distributed the goods to the refugees, I could sense that it was a meaningful experience for my classmates. It was as though they realized that these were the people who were fortunate enough to get through the gates at the airport in Kabul,” he says.
To double down on their impact, the club decided to ask veterans at the Stanford Graduate Business School to join the initiative. The school eagerly jumped at the chance to be involved. “That’s when we thought we could scale this initiative. Since then, schools across the country have joined our efforts.” he continues. “I’m hopeful we will make a meaningful difference in the lives of these new Americans.”
Aside from Stanford, they’ve reached out to several schools and have gained their involvement in supporting Afghan refugees across the country, such as New York University Stern School of Business, University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, University of California Los Angeles Anderson School of Business, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management.
GROWING UP IN TWO WORLDS
Part of Lughmani’s ability to help evacuate Afghans and support refugees comes from his unique background.
Lughmani was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, by Pashtun parents who immigrated to the U.S in the mid 1980s from the tribal areas of western Pakistan. He describes himself as having grown up in two worlds. “I’m American, and I’m also Pashtun,” he says.
Following his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Buffalo, the 2008 financial crisis hit. Needing to take care of his family, he took a unique opportunity to go to Afghanistan to support the U.S. troops using his language skills. “It completely changed the trajectory of my future,” he says. “It was a unique experience being an interpreter because both the Afghans and the Americans viewed me as their own, and I was the bridge between the two. It was an important and sensitive role because I was responsible for fostering trust and cohesion between them.”
From 2009 to 2012, Lughmani was an interpreter and acted as a liaison between the U.S. and Afghan governments directly engaged in U.S. foreign policy, economic development, and military operations.
“Whether I was interpreting for Bob Gates, the former secretary of defense, or going on a patrol through a village, I gained extraordinary life experience early in my career. As an interpreter, you’re the face of the mission. For a kid from the Bronx, that experience was unbelievable to me at the time. There were moments that I had to pinch myself and ask, ‘am I really here?’”
When he returned to the U.S. in 2012, he worked at a healthcare consulting startup. But this experience was short-lived. “I was miserable, and I missed Afghanistan. I wanted to go back, but this time, as a soldier.’” he explains.
AN INFANTRY SOLDIER
Between 2014 and 2018, Lughmani joined the army, despite concerns from his family and friends. “It was something that I felt I needed to do,” he says. “My life would not have been possible if not for America, and I felt a tremendous obligation to serve the country that had given me and my family so much.”
He says that joining the army was a rude awakening. “I was in bootcamp, getting yelled at and thinking to myself, ‘what did I get myself into? How am I going to survive the next four years?’” he explains.
While he was hoping to go into intelligence, he was placed in the infantry. This felt out of his comfort zone as he describes himself as a ‘city kid.’ “At first I was intimidated, but branching infantry ended up being the biggest blessing in my life,” he says. “The infantry helped me push my mind and body beyond what I thought were its limits. I learned a lot about myself, mainly that I could do more — mentally and physically — than I thought was possible.”
Soon, he says he’d built deep relationships with those in the infantry. “Before I knew it, I was chewing tobacco, wearing flannel shirts, and listening to country music,” he laughs. “The infantry is the heart and soul of the army, and I’m so grateful for the experience. Those relationships will always be special to me.”