Orphanage Outreach Visit II
It was kind of surprising to me that I got the chance to return to the Orphanage this week. I say that because we have a lot of fantastic volunteers and since I had been before I had told the personnel in charge of the roster to let someone new get the chance. But my driver’s license and camera were needed, so a seat I got. Thank you ability to drive stick! And thank you USPS for safely delivering my camera to Afghanistan.
We had been gathering clothes, blankets, and school supplies for months. The container was busting at the seams by this point and in serious need of a distribution to make room for the boxes sitting in offices throughout the compound. We were able to get the Force Protection team to have a clear day on their calendar and our Chief of Staff to bless off on the Outreach teams conops plan to travel to the Orphanage. Kabul has the “Ring of Steel” with the Afghanistan National Police Force which heavily controls the security of the middle of the city, but we have had incidents. The focus seems to have moved away from the Coalition and is focusing on the strengthening Afghan forces that have moved in the lead, but this does not stop us from looking at each movement we make and assess the risks involved. [ Ring of Steel] I had traveled to this area of Kabul a few times before, once to visit a University, and another on a drivers training to know alternate routes. You can easily get lost with the rings and one way roads of the city… that’s not something you want happening.
But I digress. So we were cleared to roll. The volunteer team came together to load the trucks with goodies, pre-combat checks were made, and rock drills performed. Literally … Chief P had out some rocks and was going through tactics for the drive. While it was funny in the word play, we all took seriously the message behind it. That is another thing with the mix of people who are chosen to travel. You have to have a good number of security who are familiar with the roads, and people who have been out before.
I was also a little impressed with the number of female Soldiers going this time. We had a female interpreter as well – Connie. She’s fabulous. And we were glad to have two interpreters this time. We had found that last time we went there were many times just having one interpreter had caused confusion when we split up in teams, as well we really wanted to gather more information about other Orphanages that might need our assistance.
As we did final com checks, the first set of trucks rolled and we all breathed a sigh of relief – it was a go. But we still had a concern, would the orphanage let us in? At the last minute we had learned that the Director had wanted us to actually deliver to another Orphanage. The understanding that we could not just change at the last minute to travel to a location that had not been recon’d or approved by our command was not there. It seemed we might actually upset her with our arrival, but we figured we could still try.
The roads were relatively clear and no issues along the way, we had great weather giving us beautiful views of the mountains. As we passed the Kabul Zoo, I looked to my right (Oh did I forget to mention? I was able to TC the ride out and take photos of our route! Enjoy the photos!) There was an Afghan base we passed – as I snapped the photo the men in the pic looked sternly at my window, I raised my (right) hand and waved with a smile. To my surprise, they all broke out in big grins and saluted back. Lesson learned: Just Smile; it’s universal.
As we arrived at the Orphanage and dismounted, I saw some familiar faces from our last delivery. Smiles and hugs were exchanged and I felt happiness that I had made some friends and connected. The one woman I spent most my time with was the computer admin lady (surprise!) in my last blog on the Orphanage I had written about her. I was glad to see she was still there. We also were introduced to two of the “handymen” of the place. The men were very helpful in assisting us carrying boxes to store upstairs and listened intently to the interpreters as we exchanged our hellos and asked questions about how they wanted us to do the delivery this time.
Upon meeting the director I didn’t need translation to know that while receptive to us, she was still not pleased that we were not able to change direction. She had a strict schedule and rules for how we would deliver. Cameras were allowed on the boy’s floor, but not on the girls. As well we didn’t seem to have as much time or to be able to see as many children, but that is okay. We are still developing the bonds to make this relationship work, and it is a huge trust to allow us to visit with the children, small steps are still – steps forward.
The little boys were well behaved and lined up on the floor around the rugs. Shy smiles and giggles along with fidgets spoke to the underlying excitement and energy they were holding back. As I sat and got comfortable on the floor, curious eyes turned to me, and I kept hearing a repeated English word: “Chocolate?!?” We had created little sugar monsters on our last trip there and they had learned how to let us know what their favorite candy treat was … and that was NOT sour gummies. I wish I had been prepared to capture the image of one little boy who bit into a sour treat – his grimace and instant reaction to spit out the candy was priceless. Even more hilarious was how he held his rejected sweet out to his buddy next to him like “I didn’t like it, but do YOU want to give it a try?” a ferocious shake of his friends head sent the message, “I trust your disgust.” So amazing to me how much of a story is told without words, and the universal play of children with treats. It was like Halloween and the bags were dumped out, instantly the boys with hands full were looking at their friends to the left and right in a quick assessment – you were prepared in that minute to know the exchange and bartering were about to begin.
I went up with the ladies after spending some time downstairs with the boys and noticed that most of the girls we visited with were teen age. It brought to mind some snagged bit of news in my mind about the girls of Afghanistan and more clearly as to why the Director was so protective. Many girls in Orphanages around Afghanistan have left dangerous situations and forced early marriages, their faces plastered on my Flickr account would not help their cause.
Despite their past and the life that many of us would shudder to consider for our own children I was surrounded by smiles and excited voices telling us about their schooling. The girls were thrilled to be able to use their English proficiency to explain to us how they love to learn about History, Geography, and how they use the computers to study and practice Math, as well as the well loved study of their Holy Koran. The girls were renewed with energy as they switched topic to their beloved sport “football” (yes America, that’s the sport you call Soccer) they were on the Afghan woman’s football team and very proud of how well they had played against some of the other teams. But this is where they did finally ask for help – they have a need for soccer cleats, shin guards, and long athletic pants (it will not do to wear shorts as a lady running across the field, believe me even their television shows blur any bellies, knees or bare body parts that might make it across the airwaves).
It was a great visit, and went way too fast. We would have loved to settle in for a cup of Chai and hear more stories from the girls, and they would have also enjoyed showing us their classroom and taking us through some of their school projects, but the clock had ticked quickly and it was time for us to say farewell.
It was with sadness as we prepared to depart, and I pulled my protective vest on for the ride home, that I realized I may not get the chance to come back and see the girls again. Maybe, just maybe ONE more visit if I get a chance. These visits give me hope, and they remind me that you can’t look at the children with pity in your heart at their plight, but with a compassion that the life that they live brings them so much pride as well as their ability to embrace the chance for education to make a difference in their future.
I intend to never forget the lessons I have learnt from my travels to the orphanage. Life isn’t given to us with the guarantee that it will be fair and that we will all have the same possibilities at success. I think in America we have gone from the concept that with hard work comes opportunity. But with what I see in these children I see what my ancestors believed in, that having the opportunity to achieve, and your DESIRE to take those opportunities and make them your success - is what it is truly all about.
Posted on February 17, 2013, in Deployment Afghanistan and tagged afghan children, afghan war, afghanistan casualties, afghanistan culture, afghanistan current events, afghanistan facts, Afghanistan language, afghanistan map, afghanistan news today, afghanistan online, afghanistan pictures, afghanistan religion, afghanistan today, afghanistan war, afghanistan weather, afghanistan women, bagram Afghanistan, Children, current events in afghanistan, education in afghanistan, facts about Afghanistan, football, invisible children, kabul afghanistan, kabul afghanistan news, life in afghanistan, news about afghanistan, news afghanistan, news in afghanistan today, on photography, orphan, orphan outreach, Orphanage, orphanage outreach, photographer, photographers, photography blogs, photography pictures, pictures of afghanistan, popular photography, portrait photography, soldiers in afghanistan, types of photography, war in afghanistan, war on afghanistan. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.