VISITING BIBI ORPHANAGE |
February 07, 2011
Name: CAPT Marc Rassler
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Livingston, MT
Milblog: To Afghanistan and Back
Recently my team and I took toys and school supplies and delivered them to Bibi Fatemah Orphanage, which is on the east side of Mazar-e-Sharif. Over the last few weeks we had collected a ton of material, so much that we could no longer move in the spare room where we were storing all of it. We originally had planned to visit another school, like we did in November, and deliver all the supplies to kids in school. Unfortunately we were hit with a bit of a surprise around Christmas time when we learned that all the schools in the area are closed till the Afghan new year, which is around the 1st of Spring. Apparently the schools do not have a way in which to heat the classrooms.
With all the supplies we had collected we needed to find a place to deliver the items, as they were starting to get in the way. Plus with our replacements due to arrive soon we needed to clear space so the new guys could move in. One challenge is the number of toys that we received. Some families must have gotten confused about our intent, as we received as many boxes of toys as school supplies -- boxes of toys for toddlers, as well as countless stuffed animals. I think that we would have made the Marine's Toys for Tots proud with the number of toys collected.
I was also surpised at some of the toy items that people had included. I know that in their hearts they wanted to help, but I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a little children's book on how to speak Spanish and some games which required batteries, with instructions in English. By simple luck of fate one of the guys on our team heard about an orphanage which 10th MTN, the major unit here on Camp Spann, had visited last summer.
We contacted the director, Mr. Ahmad Sultany, and asked if we could donate some toys and school supplies. He was very receptive to anything that we would bring for the children under his care. However, he said, it would be much better if we could bring coats and warm clothes for the children. We agreed, but unfortunately all had to bring was toys and school supplies.
Due to mission requirements, the day for our trip had to get pushed to the right a couple times, but we were finally able to put everything together and go deliver some supplies to needy kids. Without the help of our Croatian Army Teammates we would have really struggled. They provided a Maxpro MRAP vehicle to carry all of the supplies, and one of their crews helped provide security for the mission.
It was also important for us and this mission to have the involvement of the Afghan Army. We asked some of the soldiers that we mentor if they would like to join us and spend time with children. Whenever we do humanitarian assistance missions we try to bring along someone in the ANA or ANP, to help put an Afghan face on the event. We would like to help instill trust and confidence in the government, military, and police. Hopefully through these actions, children and thier parents can learn that the ANA are some of the good guys and people that can be trusted.
When we arrived at the small orphanage, things could not have run smoother. Mr. Sultany had all the children lined up like a gauntlet to greet us as we arrived. Several of the kids knew a few words of English, and were excited to say "Hi" or "Hello" to us. I sought out Mr. Sultany to listen to his concerns, and figure out the best way to distribute everything. As I was expecting, he immediately started asking for the moon, in terms of ways that we could help him. They are trying to fundraise for a new orphanage, as their old one went bankrupt. Again he asked for coats, and food. I assured him that we would listen to his concerns, but unfortunately we could not promise and guarantee future help and assistance. While he and I were discussing his situation, others on the team were carrying boxes.
When everything was set up, short speeches were made by the director and one of the Afghan soldiers. Together in cooperation and partnership, one US soldier, one Croatian, and one Afghan soldier gathered the toys and handed the items to the excited children. Each child got at least one notebook, several pens or pencils, as well as at least one toy. As the distribution carried on, it became obvious that there would be more than enough items for everyone to get more than one. After they collected their notebook and pens, their little arms were filled up with as many toys as could be found.
Most of the kids had smiles from all the loot that they had collected. Had they been looking at the soldiers in attendance they likely would have noticed the large smiles upon our faces.