Thursday, June 23, 2005

News from Afghanistan – Part 2

I emailed my wife’s niece, asking her if there was anything that I could do from here to help her out. Here is her reply;
Thanks so much for the care package! I feel so sorry for these kids. They have less than nothing. Often times the kids will take our empty medicine boxes and water bottles for toys. It's pretty bad when our trash is better than anything available to them.

I also talked with one of our Civil Affairs guys about your request since they handle a lot of the humanitarian aid and construction projects. I asked if there were specific needs; unfortunately everything goes into one huge pot that the military and government pulls from. He said your best bet is just to send everything through me and we can distribute them when we do our MEDCAPS or humanitarian aid drops. We visit orphanages and lots of remote villages, so eventually things will get distributed. The only other thing I can think of is UN or USAID. They are out here with us, and they give money, fertilizer and seed out to the locals, but I'm pretty sure that would boil down to just "cutting a check."

The hardest part is that most of these people will turn around and sell what you give them. You give them a bag of wheat or a tractor, and you'll find it in town being sold the next day. It's just how they think; its good "business practice" to cash in on something of value. They haven't quite got the philosophy of learning to fish for themselves.

Anything that you send would be used and appreciated for the soldiers, but in all honesty, very few soldiers are readers. Most soldiers would prefer to watch a movie, play video games or sleep. I think it's just a sign of our times, as reading has taken a back seat to other "high tech" hobbies. There are a few readers like myself, but we are few and far between, and we usually swap books with other book worms on camp. I will certainly place the books in the library and our other book drop areas for the soldiers who like to read.

It is so sad the cruelty to animals! I guess things are no better in Saudi after reading your email. I was passing by this poor, mangy, abused dog, and it broke my heart into a million pieces. Then it jumped on the vehicle and started barking and growling at me! It scared the living daylights out of me! Especially since I had my window rolled down and I was driving. Sadly, we are the closest thing to an animal rescue. We have adopted a few dogs despite a very adamant policy that we are not supposed to keep animals on the camp. A few soldiers help take care of the dogs and when the military vets come out they get their shots and dewormer. Animal shelters are not something that we will see in this country any time soon. Dogs have very little value here, and I don't think there is much point in pursuing that route for aid.

As I get out more and get a better feel for what I need, I will certainly let you know. School supplies are such a huge one. The kids are always begging for a book bag, notebook, or pens. In some areas a pen will literally start a riot. But, if I can help out a few children here and there, perhaps the kindness will make a difference when they to get a pen from a GI. Like all kids, they get super excited when they get candy. Most will share with their siblings, but I've seen some vicious fights over a candy cane. What can you do? We have to keep driving through town and hope we are doing more good than harm.

On a related a note, it sounds crazy, but these people need glasses! If there were some way for people to donate their old reading glasses, it would be better than nothing even if the prescription is not right on. All these old people complain they can't see, because they don't understand that they need glasses in order to see well. That would really help out some of the elders. That is all I can think of off hand, but if I think of more I will certainly let my super rich uncle know!
Some of her responses were to specific questions I had. Her comment about reading material was in response to me asking if they wanted to be put on the “Operation Paperback” list – a group that sends out paperback books to our soldiers around the world. Her comment about helping to alleviate animal cruelty in Afghanistan was in response to my asking if I could specifically help in that area.

And her comment about my being her “super rich uncle” is a family joke.

When I read the request for “old reading glasses”, I immediately thought of the Lions Club. This is one of the areas that they are heavily involved in. I’ve initiated contacts with them and hope to get a few of the millions of recycled glasses they currently have warehoused shipped to Reiko. I found a few NGO’s that donate eyesight and vision services to third-world countries, but none of them are in Afghanistan. While this remains a combat-zone, it appears that our military is the only one providing these services. As I make progress in this (or not), I’ll post updates.

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