|Kabul refugee children welcome winter clothes from ISAF volunteers|
Story by U.S. Air Force Capt. John Callahan
Nearly two hundred of those children who attend the Aschiana School in Kabul got welcome relief from volunteers with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters who, on Jan. 27, delivered bags of donated hats, mittens, scarves and other cold-weather clothing.
“The kids are coming to school without shoes, and it breaks your heart, “said Hashmatullah Hayak, Asichana’s project supervisor. “I tell the children, ‘These are your international friends, and they care about you. They are soldiers and have other duties, but have kind hearts and think about the kids.’”
Project coordinator Parween Omidi is an Afghan American who for the past three years has worked as an ISAF civilian media advisor and interpreter. Born and raised in Kabul, Omidi and her family fled the country following the Soviet invasion in 1983, settling in Orange County, Calif. As the years went by Omidi never forgot about the children of Afghanistan and was involved in several programs to provide them with care.
“I felt guilty,” she said. “I could get away, and they couldn't. I wanted to give them a little hope that someone was looking after them.”
In October 2012, Omidi collected donations from her Afghan-American colleagues and distributed them at Aschiana. Funded by groups like UNICEF and the International Red Cross, Aschiana provides vocational and literacy classes to street kids and children bused in from the refugee camps.
"We like to do this sort of thing because it makes us feel good. We can see that we are actually helping people in a tangible and meaningful way,” said U.S. Army Col. Thomas Collins, ISAF’s public affairs officer and Omidi’s supervisor. “Plus, there's nothing like seeing the smile of a child. It puts a human touch on our efforts in Afghanistan.”
“Of course there is no way to know what any one child might need,” Omidi said. “But once the clothes are taken back to the family, the families can trade with each other for what they need. And sometimes you can tell. Like I saw a girl who was just wearing slippers outside, so I tried to quickly look through the bags and find one that had shoes.”
When Omidi’s co-workers posted pictures of the October visit on Facebook, more donations began pouring in from friends in the United States. This led to a second visit to the school in mid-December, when about 165 kids received clothing. More photos led to another round of donations, and in January enough had been received to merit another school visit. ISAF military and civilian personnel volunteered their time to sort and distribute the donated clothes.
“The children there are very polite,” Omidi said. “While they were lining up to get the bags, I told them to be sure to say thank you to the Americans handing the bags out. They laughed and said, ‘We know to say thank you!’”
Afterwards, the children could be seen through the classroom windows, opening the bags and excitedly waving to ISAF personnel outside.
“I do feel that we make a small difference,” Omidi said. “These kids need proper clothing as [do] any other kids. Their families live in the refugee camps and are not able to provide warm clothing for their children. They should not become only the responsibility of the government or the U.N. It is up to the community to try to provide them whatever they can.”
For more information about Aschiana School, see: www.aschiana.com If you are interested in helping with this ongoing effort, contact: