One of the benefits of Hamilton’s Washington, D.C. program is the ability to connect with Hamilton College’s vast alumni network in the capital. Taking advantage of this, the D.C. program students recently met with Matthew Zeller ’04. Zeller is the founder and CEO of No One Left Behind, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring that the U.S. State Department upholds its promise to provide Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) to combat zone translators who helped U.S. and NATO troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. These translators risked their lives to help our troops, and often face severe and deadly circumstances for them and their families as a consequence of this help. CNN profiled Zeller and his translator, Janis Shinwari, as CNN Heroes on Oct. 11 in a segment titled These war heroes face another kind of danger.
Zeller’s motivation to create this organization came from his experience serving in Afghanistan, specifically his experience with an Afghan translator. In the aftermath of 9/11, Zeller joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps. He was deployed to Afghanistan several years later after he earned a master’s degree in public administration and international relations from Syracuse University.
On the 14th day of his deployment, an Afghan translator saved his life. In the middle of a firefight, Zeller didn’t notice two Taliban fighters sneaking up on him. But the translator did and he ran to help him, body checking Zeller out of the way and into safety. Years later, Zeller helped sponsor him for an SIV. But the difficult process for the translator and his family, combined with the challenge of resettling and finding solid footing in the U.S., motivated Zeller to find a way to make the whole process easier. Thus, No One Left Behind was started.
His organization has helped resettle 8,300 people in the U.S. But Zeller’s parting words were not about how he made a difference but about how we could make a difference, by fighting for what we believe is right. “History is made by people who go out and show up,” said Zeller. “If not you, then who?”