Bibi, One Year Later
Just a short update on Bibi. She is doing great! And BTW, this is not the hawkish Likud-dude in Israel, but the little girl in Kabul whose cleft palate almost caused her to die one year ago. Now, after ACP fattened her up on formula from the US, and Smile Train gave her an operation, Bibi is now at least living the normal life of an impoverished little girl in Kabul. ACP's Aimal Kahn recently visited Bibi and her family to follow-up on her condition. Aimal was very pleased with Bibi's progress. A year ago she could not eat and suffered constant infections and was only about half her desired weight. Today she is normal weight and eats fine and plays with her brothers. ACP thanks all of our supporters in the US who sent toys and clothing and money for Bibi. Here is a "before" and "after" Pic of Bibi.
ACP Featured on Tallyfunder.com Crowdsourcing Website
ACP is one of the featured charities on a new Alaska crowdsourcing website named Tallyfunder.com. For the week starting October 26, friends can visit this site and show their support for ACP's work. On Tallyfunder you vote with dollars and those dollars go to the charity. So please visit us on Tallyfunder this week!
ACP Kicks Off Tailoring Class for Widows with Children
ACP is excited to be starting its first ever vocational class! After much research and thought we have decided to operate a year-long tailoring class for widows with children. We have observed that unlike in most fields, women tailors can actually eek out a living working for themselves and thus still be able to care for their children. At the end of the course, the 10 students will keep their own sewing machine and all the tools and knowledge they will need to be tailors.
Our teacher is Malalai. She is a high school graduate and a skilled tailor. She got married in 2003. Her husband's name was Mirwais. Mirwais was killed by a land mine, leaving Malalai to somehow support their two sons, Ibrar (10) and Imran (7) Malalai, who currently works as a tailor, says, “my only hope is my sons, and I will work very hard to take care of them and send them to school.” She will be teaching our class 5 days per week and what we are paying her will allow her sons to attend school.
ACP's class will not only support Malalai and her sons, but will eventually supply the means for a decent income for up to ten other women and their children as well. The total cost of the class is expected to be about $7,000 and we are now desperately looking for donors. If you are interested, contact Will for more information on the course. We have already identified most of the students, all extremely poor widows with children, and we will be featuring their stories in weeks to come.
Attached are Pics of Malalai holding a Pic of her deceased husband, Malalai with her 2 sons and, below, of the sewing machines we are purchasing for the class.
Remember Anbia? He is the 15 year-old kid with Hodgkins Lymphoma who was fortunate enough to be put in touch with Dr. Tamie Kerns at Bagram Air Base near Kabul. The latest word is that he has completed all of his chemotherapy and is doing great and it looks like he will beat his disease. ACP was able to play a small role in this success story by sourcing and purchasing some Chemo meds in Kabul. But the real hero here is Dr. Kerns. Tamie is very unique among the many US Soldiers we have met in Afghanistan in that she is willing to go out of her way and do anything she can to actually help young Afghans. She is an Air Force oncologist and thus far has received ACP's highest medal for honor in a war zone—she has actually saved lives!
Fly a Kite, Help a Child
Fly a Kite, Help a Child is a fundraiser started by a first-generation Afghan American after inspiration from the world renowned novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Originally started as a small event, this fundraiser has continued to grow over the years. This year, Fly a Kite, Help a Child was held at Lake Padden, Washington. Participants of the event were able to purchase a kite and participate in a favorite Afghan past time of kite flying while supporting a 100% volunteer non-profit organization, the Afghan Child Project. All of the proceeds benefited ACP, which provides basic needs to women and children in Afghanistan such as education, medical supplies, clothing, food and more. The event consisted of a small showcase of the Afghan culture. Many members of the Afghan community attended the event and were available to answer questions in order to help overcome confusion about an often misunderstood culture. The goal of the event was to not only support the Afghan Child Project’s efforts but to also build bridges within the greater community.
English Classes Soldier On
If the concept of "soldiering on" is actually modeled by soldiers, then maybe it explains why Afghan children seem so adept at this practice. After all, the last two generations of Afghans have had no shortage of soldiers in their midst, from Soviets to Mujahideen, to Western "Coalition" forces and their own stunningly-corrupt Afghan National Army.
And when you visit ACP's English classes in Kabul's District 12, these children seem to have distilled all of the tenacity, courage and desire for positive change caught up in that term. For over a year many of these students have been attending our classes 5 times per week. Although we provide the teacher (and he is a very good one, Mr. Pamir) all the books and the supplies, these children, some of whom scarcely get enough food to eat, have provided incredible amounts of their time and dedication. And now it is starting to show! They are actually beginning to be "English Speakers," and it is very exciting and gratifying for ACP and all of its supporters of these classes.
Abdul, age 12, told us that he wants to learn English so he can get a good job and someday have his own family. Maia, age 14, wants to learn English so she will be "respected," and as a girl in Afghanistan, that can be a tall order, but now at least in the realm of possibility. And in the process, Abdul, Maia and the 40 or so other children involved in these classes are learning details about the West, and that it is not the blustering, unfriendly, and evil force that is sometimes portrayed (and sometimes rightly so) over here. In addition to learning English, these kids are exposed to English books and their learning the language will open up a world of books and internet, which is becoming a lot more widespread in Afghanistan. In any event, it is ACP's hope that these kids are able to continue on with their studies and their positive learning and exchange with the West.
We especially thank Guy and June Morgan, Ineke and John Warmerdam, Peter Dinnel and a number of others for generously keeping these classes going.
ACP Misappropriates Toys And Books!
As you know, charitable organizations are famous for graft, fraud and misappropriation. Thus the Afghan Child Project is now pleased to announce its arrival at this level of international charitable service. ACP supporters have sent us over 17,000 toys and books for distribution to Afghan children. This summer, ACP had an opportunity to siphon off some of these gems and send them instead to street children and HIV-orphans in Uganda!
Aurora Sherman, 16 year-old daughter of ACP's Executive Director, spent the summer working at a wonderful home and school for street children and HIV orphans in Kampala, Uganda, named Dwelling Places. Throughout the summer Aurora also visited a number of other orphanages and schools as well. On her way to Africa she was met in Amsterdam and handed off hundreds of your misappropriated toys and books from Afghanistan. KLM was complicit in this misappropriation as it happily waived the onerous extra baggage fees for what it considered to be a most worthy heist.
So after a circuituous route from the US to Afghanistan to Amsterdam to Uganda, these items are now the delight of hundreds of very poor Ugandan kids. Our only defenses: The smiling faces of these Ugandan children, as well as pointing out that the "A" in ACP might just as well stand for "African," no?
Library Books for a Neighborhood School
Although on the outskirts of Kabul, this is an area where Westerners are wise not to be seen. But thanks to some generous Girl Scouts in the US, schoolchildren here are now seeing a bit into the West. These Afghan schoolchildren here still have open minds and they all want to learn English and know more about the world outside of Afghanistan. Unfortunately their school is very poor, and while they are lucky to have a school at all, their school has no library. As the school has been kind enough to let the Afghan Child Project use its space for free English classes in the building after school hours, it was ACP's pleasure recently to deliver hundreds of children's books so that the school could have a basic library. And these books, collected and sent from the US by Jackie Jay and a wonderful group of Girl Scouts, are in English! Now the children are able to work on some basic English words as they read some of the same children's books revered by kids in the US. The teachers and the children were all delighted and send their thanks to the ACP supporters who took the trouble to send over the books. This is the 5th small library that ACP has been able to install at a very poor, but very appreciative Afghan primary school!
ACP to Provide Lifesaving Chemotherapy for 3yo Sameya
Backstory: In the US, 80-90% of children with leukemia now survive. In the 1960s, the 5-year survival rate was only about 10%. A main factor in this improvement has been the development of chemotherapy drugs and interventions.
Welcome back to the 1960s, now playing in Afghanistan. Over here maybe only about 20% of leukemia kids survive because very few families can afford to provide the chemotherapy. The drugs are readily available and cost about 1/3 of similar drugs in the US (thanks to Indian and Pakistani knock-offs).
Thus the Afghan Child Project is always on the lookout for children: 1. who have an expected 80% or greater cure rate if they were to receive chemo; and 2. whose families have no way to provide the treatment. For an average cost of $3000 we can provide the medicine and care to cure one of these kids.
Introducing: Sameya -- ACP's latest Cancer Kid. Sameya is a doe-eyed, 3-year-old with very curable leukemia. Her father works full time at a roadside fruit stand for about $70/month and her mother stays home to take care of the 3 children. Ain't gonna be no chemo on those wages. They live in a small village in restive Wardak Province, several hours away from Kabul.
But something really lucky happened--and it did not happen for Sameya and her family--it happened for us! We bumped into this innocent little angel at the hospital and suddenly found the greatest blessing money can buy--the (85%) chance to save an innocent life for a measly few thousand bucks. Isn't this about what the Pentagon used to pay for a toilet seat? U wanna save your own cancer kid--just let us know--there is no shortage here. Thanks to Jesse Laraux for a major role in saving Sameya's life.
He's Baaaack, Baby!
Neither the Taliban, the US Military nor various child welfare groups have been able to stop this secular, militantly non-militant nonsense. A mutant white rabbit from the US handing out toys and greetings to sick Afghan children. Basically a white-fleece veneer covering the generosity of several US Rotary Groups who, to date, have sent almost 13,000 toys for delivery to sick and hurting Afghan children. This week, Mr. Bunny staged a triumphant repeat performance (actually about his 11th performance) at Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital in Kabul. The Afghan Child Project's standard-bearer hopped through an estimated 600 beds in just under 4 hours, 700 toys and perhaps a gallon or so of sweat.
This, however, may have been Mr. Bunny's farewell performance. Yeah, he's back, but ironically he doesn't really have a functioning back anymore. That is, what terrorists, bombs and occupying forces did not stop, the lack of an L5-S1 disc has. The bumpy road trips, bending, hauling and packing has become too much strain on Mr. Bunny's fragile back so, as far as toy distribution is concerned, he's calling it a war. But a wonderful war it has been!
Meanwhile, on this trip, Mr. Bunny and Co. were stopped five times on the way from Bagram to Kabul by avaricious police and ANA guards. Most of the time Mr. Bunny simply gives these public self-servants the paw (in lieu of having a finger), but eventually he will find himself at the wrong end of a Kalashnikov concurrent with the declaration of an ad hoc bunny hunting season.
Nonetheless, ACP estimates it has given out almost 13,000 toys to sick and hurting Afghan children, and for this we must thank 2 main sources: Hobbs, Inc., of New Canaan, Ct., and the Darien Rotary Club of Darien, Ct. (And of course you, Chantal). But from now on ACP will focus on its educational, environmental, and medical projects. Or at least anything that helps needy Afghan kids and is easier on the spine.
My Life as a Drug Mule
Sometimes to keep going over here you just have to look hard and focus on the good things in Afghanistan. Here's a good thing: over-the-counter cancer Meds. At least it is a really good thing for a poor, 15-year-old boy with Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Anbia and his dad walked an hour to get to the little Korean Hospital located at Bagram Air Base to see if there were something that could be done to treat his cancer and save his life. Lucky for Anbia, a saintly US Military oncologist from Hawaii happened to be stationed at the base. Maj. Tamie Kearns saw Anbia and determined he had at least an 85% chance of being cured if he were provided with chemotherapy for about 6 months. And she was determined to provide it.
So how did ACP get mixed up in all of this good stuff? When Tami checked with both the base hospital and her hospital back home she was informed they would not provide the chemotherapy medicine for Anbia. (Hell, they won't even give an Advil to a US civilian contractor here any more). So what to do? Tamie found ACP's website and asked us if we could somehow procure the required cocktail of meds for Anbia's chemo treatments.
No problem! ACP has had a bit of a cancer-treating fetish of late and has forged some good relations with a few Kabul pharmacies. To date, Will has made several shopping trips to Kabul and gladly muled the chemo meds back to Bagram. Apparently as long as things don't explode or have any decent recreational side-effects they are good to go on base! The cost to save a child's life with Hodgkins Lymphoma--about $800.
So thanks to Tamie's big heart for Afghan children and the Korean Hospital's facilities, Anbia is receiving his chemotherapy and reportedly doing very well. Why can't the US Military send more folks over here like Tamie? Oh, probably because then we wouldn't even need to have an expensive "war on terror." Instead we could just be friends and help one another. Or at least give it a try.
2013 Adopt-A-Tree Program a Huge Hit at Kabul Schools
This past week saw several Kabul schools and the minds of hundreds of Afghan children get a little greener, thanks to ACP's 2013 Adopt-A-Tree Program. With the enthusiastic turnout and support of school administrators, teachers, students and parents, ACP volunteers carried out this 2-part project at schools in Kabul's bleak District 12. The first part of the project is education. ACP gave talks and demonstrations of the importance of healthy trees and how to care for them. The second part was providing seedlings of various appropriate species for the children to take ownership of, plant and then care for.
Fittingly, we carried this project out against a bleak, treeless backdrop. Years of rampant deforestation, war and sprawl have left much of the once leafy Kabul area now a dusty desert, hot in the summer; windy and bleak in the winter. But hopefully we reversed this process a little bit last week. And hopefully, with the love and care of the children, the seedlingswe planted will grow up to provide years of benefits.
Main thanks for the great success of this project are due to ACP volunteer Aimal Khaurin. Aimal's day job is as an agronomist for a foreign NGO. But he spends much of his free time helping out with a number of ACP projects, especially those dealing with the environment. Aimal completely envisioned and designed ACP's Adopt-A-Tree Project, including developing all of the curriculum and selecting the best seedling species.
Last year ACP just was not able to pull this project together in time for planting season and this year it almost looked like we would have the same problem due to lack of funding. But a number of generous ACP donors stepped forward at the last minute and this project was able to happen and was a huge success. We have received already great thanks from the schools and many parents. Our special thanks go out to Ann Strauss, Emma Gardner, James Liberace, Peter Dinnel and others, for underwriting this project.
The optimal tree planting season in Kabul is rapidly drawing to a close, however we are still planning to plant a few more at several orphanages. And next year we hope to educate hundreds of children more as they plant and care for seedlings provided by ACP.
2013 Spring Tree-Planting Project Needs Support
After a successful trial run last spring, the Afghan Child Project, together with hundreds of Afghan school children and their teachers, is looking to plant thousands of trees in the Kabul area this coming April, along with la concurrent educational campaign in schools to teach children the importance of having healthy trees in their community.
Kabul and its environs used to be covered with leafy-green trees. It was once called the "Paris of Central Asia." But beginning with the Soviet occupation in the 1970s, Kabul's trees began being cut down to eliminate cover for snipers. And with the influx of very poor refugees that has swelled Kabul's population from under a million to perhaps 3 or 4 million, many of the remaining trees have disappeared for firewood and other uses. The situation today is grim--hot and dusty in the summer,; cold, windy and barren in the winter; ugly all year long. Children play in vacant lots covered with dust and garbage, not green trees.
Simply planting trees will not solve the problem. That is why ACP's main focus is to educate young Afghans on the importance of trees. In April, we will sponsor classes in Afghan schools throughout the region. Along with this training, we will provide seedlings ($1-$3 each, depending upon species) tools ($300 total) and expert help, so the children can plant and care for their own trees. The trees will be planted in protected areas, such as walled-off school fields and the children's own homes. And this year we are also hoping to raise enough money to transform an entire park, which is now just a vacant lot about knee-deep in trash. This will also require building a wall around the park's perimeter ($3,000) and installing a well ($500). We have already organized a brigade of children who want to plant and care for the trees in the soon-to-be-transformed park.
ACP is very lucky to have Aimal Khaurin running our tree-planting project. Aimal is a volunteer, like all of us at ACP. His father has a PHD in forestry and Aimal is an agronomist working for an international NGO. But most of all, Aimal has a huge heart for Afghan children and devotes almost all of his free time towards helping make their lives better--precisely what we try and do at ACP. (Read more about Aimal, below.)
ACP's Aimal Khaurin Selected to Attend Environmental Leadership Program at Berkeley University
The Afghan Child Project is very excited that Aimal Khaurin, our main Afghan volunteer and the director of our environmental projects, has been selected to attend Berkeley University's Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program this summer in California. (http://beahrselp.berkeley.edu) This program takes the most promising environmentalists from developing countries and brings them together for training and networking opportunities. Given all of Afghanistan's social, security, and other humanitarian problems, the environment often takes a backseat. ACP believes that Afghanistan's only hope lies in training fearless and energetic Afghans of the importance of a healthy environment and giving them the tools to protect it. Aimal is the most promising Afghan environmental leader we have met.
Aimal has, for a number of years, been ACP's most ardent Afghan volunteer, spending most of his free time on projects to benefit Afghanistan's children, often projects related to improving Afghanistan's fragile environment. Currently, Aimal has designed, and will lead, ACP's Spring 2013 Tree-Planting Campaign (read more about this, above.) His day job is as the Afghanistan Country Manager of an NGO that provides small community grants for sustainable farming initiatives.
Aimal's father holds a PHD in forestry and many others in his family are well-educated environmentalists. Due to the years of war in Afghanistan, his family had to leave their home in Kunar, on the Pakistan border. Aimal spent a number of years in Pakistan, where he got his degree in Agronomy. He speaks five languages fluently.
ACP believes the training Aimal receives at Berkeley will be of great benefit to Afghanistan's environment and its children. That is why ACP is supporting Aimal in this endeavor. Berkeley has granted Aimal a partial scholarship of the tuition for the program. But we currently need to raise $6,000 to pay the rest. An ACP donor has agreed to provide Aimal's transportation to and from the US. While visiting the US, Aimal will meet with, and speak to, a number of groups that support ACP. If anyone is interested in really learning about Afghanistan and how to help the people there, we hope Aimal will be on the West Coast this summer and if so, he would be glad to meet you or your group.
Girl With the Hole in Her Mouth Improving With Food and Medicine From ACP
This winter, ACP discovered a little baby named Bibi Haleema who was born with a hole in the roof of her mouth. And when we say "little baby," we mean it. Bibi, at 4 months, was about 1/2 of the normal weight. Due to the hole in her upper pallet, she could not breastfeed and a portion of what food she was able receive ended up in her lungs, causing severe infections. On our website there is a video clip from several months ago of Bibi trying to draw breath.
We did a little research to see if we could help Bibi. The first thing we found out is that she has a loving and supportive, though very poor, family. But that is half the battle in Afghanistan. Her father is a tailor and her mother tends to her and 2 charming brothers and a sister. Next we took her to the best Docs in Kabul for an evaluation. We discovered that with an operation Bibi could likely be cured and live the "normal" life of an Afghan girl. And even better, we learned that Smile Train, (www.smiletrain.org) a charity deserving of everyone's admiration, would likely pay for Bibi's surgery. The challenge for us was to help keep Bibi alive so she could gain enough weight for the surgery.
Three months after we agreed to help Bibi, we are pleased to report that she is doing very well and is now expected to make it to the surgery in 4-6 months. We have provided excellent formula from the US as well as whatever else she needs to be healthy, including special feeding bottles and instructions from the US. A number of ACP friends have also sent some toys and books for Bibi's family, which have been a great encouragement. Bibi is a perfect project for ACP--we don't care whether a project benefits 100s of children or just one family--as long as we do the best we can for them. In this case at least, it appears to be working out. ACP thanks Bibi, her family and those of you who helped them out.
New Englanders Reach Out to Hurting Afghan Children
The Watch Hill Chapel, of stately Watch Hill Connecticut, has joined longtime ACP supporters Darien, Connecticut Rotary Club and Hobbs, Inc., in sending a large number of toys destined for sick Afghan children. Actually, between these three charity-minded groups, ACP had enough toys for the entire 600-bed Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital as well as several others in Kabul.
Beth Bean, wife of one of Mr. Bunny's oldest and dearest friends, led the Watch Hill effort to collect and ship toys, which we distributed last week at Afghanistan's largest (and poorest) children's hospitals. We were informed that it was a good cathartic experience for some of Watch Hill's young scions to part with their stuffed animals for such a worthy cause. And, we are advised, parents were also taught a good lesson in the process. ACP has always believed that giving is at least (if not more) as good for the giver as for the receiver.
On this end, some children and their handlers were moved to tears, partly because of the quality and quantity of the toys and partly because they had never before seen a 5'-8" bunny. For many of these young Afghans, the toys we gave out to them will be the only direct gifts they will see all winter.
We normally take truck loads of surplus medical supplies along with toys to the hospital, but we seem to currently be on the "outs" with Bagram's medical surplus people. So for now, we are grateful to have toys to be able to reach out to these children and their families and really grateful to the kind people who sent them.
ACP Launches Two New English Classes
This month, ACP launched 2 new free English classes for children in District 12, situated about a half-hour's drive east of Kabul. The two classes, one of which is primarily for orphaned children, are both open to boys and girls who otherwise would have no way to learn English.
As we have been told many times, learning English is perceived as one of the best ways for young Afghans to advance themselves. We also see it as a great way to open up a world of English-language media to them and otherwise foster amiable relations with the West. And perhaps also as a very small way to thank them for having to put up with an 11-year occupation of their country, which has yielded few apparent gains for anyone.
The classes are being taught by an incredibly smart 17-year old guy who is between high school and university. He is very charity-minded and wants to become a physician. Meeting people like this gives us at least a little hope for the future here. We are lucky that our friend Aimal found this teacher for us, as well as lined up the space and helped purchase the books and supplies.
These classes will run a minimum of one year and are replacing our Bamyan women's classes, which we operated for almost 4 years. These new classes are made possible partly through the generosity of Guy and June Morgan, The Oneonta, NY First Presbyterian Church, and other generous ACP supporters.
The classes are held after hours in a public school that has graciously made the space available for us. However heating the classrooms, we later learned, is another matter. Once we noticed we could see the kids' breath during a visit to the classes, we were struck with the belated idea that it might be nice to get them some fire wood. Very few Afghan schools have any heat, other than maybe a wood stove that is usually not being used because nobody can afford the wood. It is not as bad as last year, but still a pretty cold winter here.
We began with 17 students, but as word got out we were quickly up to 35 in our first week. Eventually these classes will teach English to 70 underprivileged young Afghans.
Books for Orphans
Hundreds of poor, orphaned children in Kabul are now smiling about such singular subjects as "Sheep in a Jeep" and "Wheels on the Bus." Thus far, ACP has delivered several hundred children's books to the Aluddin Orphanage in Kabul with more on the way. The orphanage houses over 300 children, many of whom are eager to learn English.
ACP was able to provide books to start a library at the orphanage through the hard work of a 13 year old 8th grader from New Canaan, Connecticut's Saxe Middle School. Laruren Carlson collected the books by speaking to other kids throughout the school, putting flyers in newsletters and putting up signs and collection boxes. Lauren says she hopes to help kids in Afghanistan receive as good of an education as she does.
There is probably a long way to go to bring elementary education in Afghanistan up to New Canaan standards. But Lauren, like ACP, believes that every little bit of kindness to Afghan kids can't hurt. And she has spent many hours and lots of hard work collecting books for this purpose. Together with Chantal Bouchard and Hobbs, Inc., Lauren's books were shipped to us here and are now bringing smiles to many young Afghan faces.
ACP Distributes 10,000th Toy
The 11-year old war in Afghanistan has one particularly unique group of soldiers--Teddy, Mr. Leopard, Bo-Bo, Mr. Zebra and a number of other technicolor animals that defy taxonomy have invaded the hearts of Afghan children to fight against hatred and misinformation towards the West. These are among the 10,000 (give or take a few hundred) toys that ACP estimates it has distributed to Afghan children.
The majority of these toys have been stuffed animals, as they are relatively easy to ship and a sure hit with children anywhere in the world. And the majority of them have come from two sources--Hobbs, Inc, of New Canaan, Ct., and the Darien Rotary Club, of Darien, Ct. Hobbs is a luxury homebuilder that seems to take charitable work very seriously. Through drop boxes at libraries and stores, Hobbs has collected thousands of stuffed animals and shipped them off to ACP. Chantal Bouchard has spent many thankless hours in this task and Hobbs has spent a considerable amount of money on postage over the years. Meanwhile, the Darien Rotary Club has also sent a remarkable number of boxes of toys to ACP, numbering in the thousands. And many more toys have come from individuals all over the US and even from the UK and New Zealand.
Most of the toys we receive are given to sick and injured children in hospitals. As part of its work, ACP collects medical supplies donated by various branches of the US MiIitary in Afghanistan. We take these supplies to children's hospitals and clinics and whenever we go, we make sure to visit each child present and give them with a toy. On one trip, we were stopped at a checkpoint at night and threatened with arrest (or worse). After lengthy negotiations and the "gifting" of about 100 stuffed animals to the soldiers, the shipment of medical supplies (valued at about $20,000) was finally able to get through.
ACP is not exactly the Toys-R-Us of Central Asia, but having given out our 10,000th toy this November, we have been able to pull off many small acts of kindness that we hope will eventually contribute to a better Afghanistan and better relations with the West.
Special Notebooks for Afghan Schoolgirls
This fall, ACP distributed another load of the handmade notebooks received from Barbara Helfand and her friends in Ashland, Oregon. These unique tokens of love from the US went to middle school-aged girls living in a village about 40 miles away from Bagram Air Base. Istalif is an ethnic Tajik village on the slopes of the ridge that runs from Bagram to Kabul. Although it is a relatively pretty village, the people are also relatively conservative, thus these girls face a life of strict control by their husbands and their families.
That is why we believe it is important to reach out to these girls with acts of kindness before they become the "property" of husbands who may literally sequester them for the rest of their wives. Once married, these women may never have an opportunity to learn anything about the United States and its people, except for what is filtered through their husbands.
About 50 of these girls now have at least one fond memory of people in the US. The girls are amazed when they find out that women in the US have handmade these notebooks as gifts of Afghan girls. The books are hard to describe--part scrapbook, part collage, part notebook. Although they have pages that the girls can write in, they are hardly blank books, Each book is unique, some even containing handmade paper and trinkets. The books make their young Afghan recipients feel very special--and that may be something very out of the ordinary for these girls.
ACP thanks Barbara and her friends in Ashland for taking the time to make these notebooks that allow us here to commit small random acts of kindness to Afghan children and women as we travel throughout the country.
Mr. Bunny Awakens Child From 15-day Coma (Maybe?)
The following may sound a trifle tabloid, but here are the facts: Last weekend, ACP reached out to the children at Afghanistan's largest children's hospital, as we have a dozen times before with medical supplies and toys. Recent visits have been in the guise of Mr. Bunny, a 5'-8” rabbit with a habit of charming smiles out of very sick Afghan children and their attendants (as well as keeping the white boys incognito—not a bad idea these days).
On this particular trip, Mr. Bunny strode up to one of the hospital's 600-odd beds, this one appearing to contain a sleeping boy. Mr. Bunny lightly placed his fleece-covered paw upon the child's head and gifted a stuffed dog at his side. Said child immediately opened his eyes, lifted his head and curled his lips into the most spontaneous and genuine smile that Mr. Bunny, purveyor of smiles, has ever witnessed.
But that was nothing compared to the smiles and tears on the faces of the boy's mom and doctors. Astonished Docs. informed Mr. Bunny and his handlers that the boy had been in a virtual coma for 15 days since sustaining a head injury in an automobile accident and had not been expected to recover. And then, all of a sudden, he was trading thousand-megawatt smiles with ACP's mascot.
Okay—nobody is trying to take anything away from God (or Allah, as he is generally known around these parts). But DAMN! The Afghan Child Project has literally been stuck in the middle of attacks, killings and rampant insanity (and we don't just mean DOD planning). Of late, our spirits have predictably been flagging. We will probably never get over all the useless killing and misery we have seen in Afghanistan. But now we will also never forget the moment we watched a left-for-dead member of Afghanistan's future suddenly wake up smiling. Maybe the US and Afghanistan will follow.
Meanwhile, there were 400-500 other smiling children (okay—maybe 1 in 20 find Mr. Bunny a little creepy and don't smile) who received toys this trip courtesy of ACP's usual cast of donors. Thank you all!
ACP visits Afghanistan's Second Largest Orphanage
ACP volunteers (as are all of us), including Ajmal, Aimal, Sahi, Will and the indefatiguable Mr. Bunny, had the privilege to be the guests of about 250 children and their handlers at the Al-udine Orphanage, located near Kabul.
And we really mean that we were treated like guests—honored guests. When we arrived, there was already a table set with tea and delicious baked goods made by some of the orphan girls. The affable director explained that one of their big things is to provide vocational training to the orphans and that many of the girls learned to cook and bake.
And this grand reception set the tone for a day in which we, rather than lamenting the plight of unfortunate orphaned urchins, witnessed one of the precious few things that can go well with an Afghan government program when politicians don't steal everything in sight and the workers really care about the kids. We got the idea for this visit from an interesting NYT article several months ago about recent positive reforms in Afghanistan's notorious government-run orphanages. (You can read the article here).
These kids are actually among the lucky. We probably drove passed 100 heartbreaking street children just to get to the orphanage. But unlike the street kids, the children at this orphanage appear well fed, well cared-for and maybe even have a fair shot at decent adult lives. The main problem is that once they reach 18 they are on their own, and in a culture where families stick together for life, share all resources and parents arrange almost all marriages, lots of these orphans are left totally adrift.
Thus we spent a lot of time discussing the vocational training the director believes will help his kids make a successful transition to the adult, non-institutional world. As ACP is very small and all about doing very small things, one of the things we discussed was providing internet to the orphanage, which currently has none. That way we could possibly hook these orphans up with e-penpals in the US to further our goal to make friends, not enemies.
But of course, the big deal of the day was the appearance of Mr. Bunny handing out toys and clothing to all of the children. Our thanks to our Connecticut Rotary Clubs (Darien and New Canaan), Hobbs, Inc., Chantal, Gisela Hayes, Greg, Justin, Kathy Brady and many others. John Michael and his wife donated and shipped over a huge box of Girl Scout cookies, which the orphans loved. And—several Berry Aviation mechanics and pilots donated 400 glasses, forks and spoons, and cleaning supplies, which the orphanage desperately needed.
Bamyan English Classes Thriving
It has been a bad year for Afghanistan and Bamyan is no exception. The once-peaceful mountain enclave has seen three killings of New Zealand PRT members this summer as well as numerous sightings of Taliban scouts in the area. And the idyllic mountain road from Bamyan to Kabul has seen numerous killings and carjackings this year. Welcome to Afghanistan after an 11-year US-led war on terror!
Nonetheless, a growing number of courageous Hazara girls continue to attend the three free English courses provided by ACP. An average of about 25 girls attend each of the three classes, which meet five times per week. Thus, about 75 students are learning English in the classes, up from about 50 a year ago.
ACP actually began in Bamyan almost five years ago with shipments of clothing and toys to local orphanages. On our first trip there, three years ago, we met Jawad, a local interpreter and guide. Jawad suggested we start some English classes for girls. The Hazara are relatively progressive folks, especially when it comes to women's. Still, we wondered why rural Hazara girls 9,000' in the Hindu Kush would want to learn English? We have received the same answer in many thank-you letters from our students: “We just want to be like women anywhere else in the world.”
Mr. Bunny Takes Egyptian Hospital by Storm
Fresh off his Triumphant Kabul tour, Mr. Bunny has taken the local Egyptian Field Hospital by storm. Inpatients, children and adults alike, swooned to Mr. Bunny's appearance. The upwelling of emotion and support for this lovable lapine is being called the "Arab Spring of 2012." In a scene reminiscent of Tahrir Square, Egyptian soldiers looked on as throngs of sick children were brought to meet Mr. Bunny.
And this is not to mention the minor sensation caused as Mr. Bunny and his lovely retinue made their way down Bagram's Disneyland Drive to the hospital. What, with all of the greetings and impromptu photo ops, it appeared that for a time the entire war effort had ground to a halt (though nobody actually noticed much of a difference).
Helping Mr. Bunny distribute gifts on this visit were Shawn, Sheena, Chief, Brooke, and the lovely Miss. Meredith Blackman. Hugh Heffner never had so intrepid a collection of helper bunnies.
Mr. Bunny Triumphs in Kabul
Students, children in hospital and Kabul citizens are all ga-ga over Mr. Bunny, the Afghan Child Project's latest clever tactical disguise, which allows ACP personnel to operate clandestinely in even these trying and deteriorating security conditions here. (The Pentagon is also said to be interested in this technology if only it can find a high enough bidder).
Replete with traditional Afghan accoutrements, Mr. Bunny easily passes as any native 5'-8" rabbit. This past weekend, Mr. Bunny distributed toys, books and clothing to needy Afghan children, creating a welcomed nonlethal cause célèbre wherever he set paw.
Getting the truck to Kabul, however, was another matter. It seems that everywhere is a police checkpoint nowadays. The creepy thing is that one can never be too sure whose side these police are on. Having had the truck turned back at one checkpoint for lack of papers (read: graft), Mr. Bunny endeavored to take some back alleys to circumnavigate this blockade.
Unfortunately, said alleys led to some even scarier ruffians, who menacingly blocked, and advanced upon, the truck. When lascivious glances were cast at Mr. Bunny's female interpreter, a deal was quickly arranged in which the Afghan Child Project endowed the ringleader with enough stuffed animals to keep his two children supplied until about their 81st birthdays. The truck rolled on (with our relieved thanks to the Darien Rotary Club).
Nonetheless, the rest of the weekend trip was flawless. Mr. Bunny gave toys to 600 excited children in hospital and then polished off a school with picture books and even some handmade notebooks and clothes sent from the US.
It seemed that for a short time, everyone, whether Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, conservative, progressive, Shia, Sunni or whatever, just sort of laughed together at this human-sized bumbling bunny doing whatever it could to get hurting kids to eek out a smile. But do not worry -- by now everyone here is back to hating each other.
Mr. Bunny is also available for birthday parties and Bar-Mitzvahs within Central Asia.
Charah-e-Qambahr Refugee Camp
This past summer, ACP took many hundreds of pair of shoes to the Charah-e-Qambahr Refugee Camp on the outskirts of Kabul. Approximately 800 war-displaced Pashtun families from Helmand Province live here and the conditions here are about as bad as we have seen in Afghanistan.
This winter, one of the coldest here in recent memory, ACP decided to bring some medical supplies, warm clothing and school supplies to this dismal place. On the day we arrived it was about 20 degrees Farenheit. We were amazed to see children sitting at the desks trying to have some semblance of a class. The teacher was practically in tears to receive the school supplies, though it may be many months before the Elmer's Glue will actually flow.
Most of the children we saw at the camp were just wandering around the little lanes between the tents and hovels. They are really dirty and greasy, but friendly.
The conditions at the camp were pretty appalling, but it was not until about 2 weeks later when we realized how bad things really were. At that point, the New York Times reported that up to several dozen children had died here from the cold. (See: New York Times, February 12, 2012: Long Neglected, Camps in Kabul Get a Deluge of Aid).
The Afghan Government, which routinely steals much of the aid sent here, and which the US Government supports, of course had initially denied how bad things really were in the camps, which number around 40.
Unfortunately, there was little ACP could do, other than bring a few blankets and warm clothes for about two dozen children--that's all we had.
The Dadaist Diaries, or Sorbonne Scrap Booking
Think hand made paper covers, hand-torn pages and disparate surprises throughout. A playful collision of color, collage, Dada-ism and the once-prosaic notebook. They are a little like the blank journals invariably for sale in art museum shops, except each one of these is an original—way original.
And while they are journals meant to write in, they are hardly blank. Leafing through, one might encounter buttons, phrases, mini-chain mail, alphabets, small ceramic bas-reliefs, stickers and pretty much anything else.
It is probably hard to imagine how much these unique tokens of friendship from women in the US will mean to Afghan women and girls. Many of these Afghan women are students in ACP's literacy and English classes.
Barbara and her friends are also making smaller books for younger kids. Whether they use these books for diaries or note books, we suspect that the Afghan women will be proud to own them and even prouder that they came to them from friends in the US.
Since its beginning, ACP has provided thousands of notebooks to Afghan students, but nothing like these. We can't wait until we give them out. Thank you, Barbara and friends!
Progress in Kabul English Classes
ACP's first women's English classes in Kabul have now been operating 6 months. Aimal Khaurin recently visited the three classes held in District 8. Aimal, who is no mean English scholar himself, told us how impressed he is with these classes and with our teacher, Yalda.
Five times each week, almost 30 women, girls and boys squeeze into a too-small room and hear Yalda teach them English. Some of the girls want to learn English for better job prospects. Others just want to learn and think it is great that people in the US care enough to provide classes for them. And according to Aimal, the students are working very hard and learning fast.
These English classes have become one of ACP's staple projects. For around $2,500, we can provide classes 5 times per week for 30 women for an entire year. And now that we have established our model, it is ACP's hopes to roll these classes out in many more cities and villages across Afghanistan. At this point, we are just awaiting more funding to start up more classes. For each new class, we need to commit to at least one year.
ACP Has a New Website
If you are reading this, then it must be old news. But ACP is still very proud to finally have its own professional website, which was designed and constructed by Zita Rainer in Budapest, Hungary. We are very pleased with our new site and she is also very reasonable, so if you need any web work done, we heartily recommend her work.
Turning Brown Schools Green Around Kabul
The entire valley around Kabul was once full of trees. 40 years of war and the in-migration of several million very poor people has changed the look of things here, and not for the better. Now, the valley is largely deforested, windy, dusty and brown.
We prefer green. And we also want to teach Kabul school children that they can actually do things to help their environment. We have noticed that those few places in Kabul with trees are lots cooler in the summer and less bleak and windy in the winter. And we especially think that schools should have a few trees on the grounds.
Thus, ACP is planning on purchasing thousands of seedlings and disributing them to a number of schools in the valley. Working in conjunction with the Afghan Ministry of Education (and for us to be working with any government agency here is a small miracle) we are developing a curriculum for the schools about how to plant and care for trees and how important they are.
The trees will be planted within the protected grounds of the schools and each student will have his or her own tree, even bringing the water from home for the tree, in some cases. This same sort of project has been done in a few other schools in Afghanistan with good success.
This whole project is made possible through the work of our friend, Aimal Khaurin. Aimal is the father of Sediq, the little Afghan boy who received the bone marrow transplant last year, made possible by ACP. Aimal's father has his PHD in forrestry, and Aimal has his degree in agronomy, so ACP is very lucky to have this sort of expertise behind our new project.
Like most of our projects, we have no funding whatsoever for this—just a dream. Aimal estimates that when it is all said and done it will cost us about $4 per tree. So who knows whether we will plant a few hundred or a few thousands of trees in Afghanistan this winter.
You've Got Mail - From Afghanistan!
There was a wonderful story on BBC.com recently about how the mail gets delivered in Kabul, where streets seldom have names and where most of whose 3+ million occupants have no real addresses and a lot of times, just one name. The poor postman, usually riding his motorcycle, finds the neighborhood and starts asking around. It can take over an hour to deliver one letter.
This probably explains why it is so exciting for our English students here to receive a letter from the US. And even more exciting is that they are now able to write their own replies in English, having been working really hard at our classes.
All three of our English classes in Kabul are now swapping letters with students at Kellie Williams's 7-9th grade classes at Frontier Junior High, in Graham, Washington. Kellie is the mother of Brooke Williams, ACP's Education Director here in Afghanistan.
This project is the quintessence of ACP—individuals on both sides of the world connecting and building friendships through a relatively low-cost, project. Maybe if we start as penpals, we can get a little more comfortable with one another and then just wage our next Afghan war by mail.