Mariam Raqib does not take the power of a tree for granted. When she was a child growing up in Afghanistan, she remembers a country of great landscapes, trees and bushes.

“Lots of grand space,” she said in a recent interview with the Gazette.

But she was forced to flee the country at a young age, amid the violence and turmoil spreading throughout Afghanistan in the 1980s. Visiting the Vineyard over the weekend, she recounted her time in Afghanistan, and her current work to revitalize the communities of her homeland.

“My world was green,” she said. “And it fell apart when I was very young.”

Decades later, with a PhD from Northeastern University, Ms. Raqib returned to Afghanistan in 2008 to replace the trees that were lost in her childhood. She started Afghanistan Samsortya, a nonprofit organization that helps remote villages in Eastern Afghanistan revitalize their communities by building nurseries and wells, and providing scholarships.

“Because it was so hot … I couldn’t breathe the first time I was there,” she added

Ms. Raqib is based in Boston but spends a few months each year in Afghanistan, working directly in the communities her nonprofit aims to revitalize. She will return in February, at the height of the growing season. A frequent visitor the Island, she gave a talk in 2017 at the West Tisbury Library about her work.

Afghanistan Samsortya began with simple packets of seeds, she said, and has grown into a program that has built 10 nurseries in Eastern Afghanistan, brought wells to many of those communities and provided chickens that bring a much needed source of protein to hundreds of thousands of Afghan people.

“The work starts with the people and ends with the people,” Ms. Raqib said.

When she started Afghanistan Samsortya, she went door-to-door recruiting people to help, she said. Now, thousands work with the non-governmental organization, helping communities survive.

“It’s very simple stuff that we do,” Ms. Raqib said. “Very simple stuff.”

Basic luxuries, the ability to stop and smell the roses — literally — have been lost to conflict. From Ms. Raqib’s perspective, those experiences are necessary for the success of a community. She said that for even the most privileged people, mental health is ignored. But for those lacking access to basic necessities, the idea of mental well-being is not part of the equation. But the simple addition of trees to war-torn villages, Ms. Raqib said, can provide sanctuary and lift spirits.

“Nature was my thing, nature was my love. Nature was my kindness also,” Ms. Raqib said. “When I’m lonely and depressed and sad, trees and greeneries are the place to go.”

The heart of the work, Ms. Raqib said, is connecting people. In Afghanistan, that can come in the form of food, water or education. Stateside, that means connecting people to the plight of Afghan people in war-torn villages.

“At the end of the day, the planet is a shared home for us all,” she said. “Really our stories are universal — they’re parallel.”

“The fundraising is really an incredible challenge,” Ms. Raqib added. “It’s not my favorite part of the work, but someone has to do it.”

Currently, she’s working to raise $40,000 for the organization. The money would cover some two years of operation — continuing projects and providing nursing scholarships to women. Of the women Afghanistan Samsortya has sent to nursing school, many have graduated at or near the top of their class.

Often, she said the women who become nurses are “the darlings of her family,” effectively providing access to healthcare for extended families of dozens of people.

The organization is also working to connect water to a secondary school in Eastern Afghanistan, and has already provided wells to several villages. Ms. Raqib said that the first time she returned to the country, she was taken aback by water carriers, nearly all women, who venture miles to the nearest source of potable water. That water, in its scarcity, provided the communities with drinking, bathing and cooking water.

“To have it rationed was just appalling to me,” Ms. Raqib said.

Along with access to water and education, Afghan Samsortya has provided thousands of chickens to villages, whose eggs provide sources of protein.

“That’s a breakfast that a child needs to thrive, or even survive,” Ms. Raqib said.

Ms. Raqib’s work, at its core, provides basic necessities to those in need, and the tools to help communities in Eastern Afghanistan live on.

“It changes, transforms, the lives of ordinary people,” she said.

When Ms. Raqib returns to Afghanistan in February she will have to navigate a still-developing political situation there. But her work, she insisted, was apolitical.

“All I want is to do my work,” she said. “Too much to ask for, but it’s all I want.”

For more information, visit