ARO SPRING 2003 RELIEF TRIP: CHALLENGES AND SUCCESS
The ARO relief team returned from Afghanistan tired but with a renewed commitment. The ARO relief team left for Afghanistan shortly after the start of the war in Iraq, despite worldwide travel warnings, temporary evacuation of some relief teams in Afghanistan, and overall concern about security. Up until a few days before departure, ARO volunteers communicated with officials in the United States and Afghanistan, regarding the trip.
"…The news this morning makes it appear that the war may begin as
early as tomorrow. In which case, you may not even be able to travel here.
…we are not anticipating an evacuation, although we do have our own contingency plan if it becomes necessary to evacuate, to Tajikistan as well. Instead, we expect to be restricted to our houses for 48 hours when war breaks out. The feeling is that Kabul will be fairly secure because of the ISAF, however the outlying areas will be harder to control.
I know this isn't very encouraging. In short, I would give very serious
consideration to delaying the mission."
However, the personal commitment, determination, and humanitarian nature of ARO volunteers won the day. As the trip had been planned for months, the entire team weighed the risks and determined it was necessary to go forward.
WHO WENT ON THE TRIP?
For the first time, the ARO team traveling from America included a large majority of women volunteers (of Afghan and American descent). Many of the Afghan American members of the team had been separated from their homeland since the first Russian invasion, more than 24 years ago. The trip represented not only an important relief effort, but also a very personal commitment by volunteers. The relief team also included two journalists and a videographer, and a video of the relief trip is in production. In total, 14 relief volunteers traveled from America to meet with ARO's Afghan-based volunteers.
RELIEF DISTRIBUTIONS INVOLVE ADVANCE PLANNING AND COMMUNICATION
While in Afghanistan, the ARO volunteers distributed relief and school supplies in Mazar-I-Sharif, Tora Bora, Jalalabad, Paghman, and Parwan, among other areas. In some areas, the ARO team was provided an armed escort and an advance team, who met with local leaders, organized the distribution site, and arranged for relief team security, preceded distributions. ARO distributed thousands of pounds of school supplies and regionally purchased rice and flour, but was unable to distribute some supplies as planned due to delays caused by an international shipper.
In all cases, the ARO team was graciously greeted and made welcome by local Afghans, with the traditional pleasantries of tea and refreshments. ARO volunteers in the United States anxiously checked for the rare email and telephone messages that provided a glimpse of the trip's progress.
"I was stunned by the devastation. At least half of the buildings in Kabul
are in ruins. Most disturbing was that people are making their homes in
rubble that seems likely to crumble at any moment.
In downtown Kabul, I picked up a thin, sick baby crawling in the dirt next
to a trench filled with sewage. While the child's mother was concerned about
her baby's health, she had no idea where to take him for medical care.
On a positive note, I saw thousands of children eagerly attending school,
even though their 'classrooms' were most often a tent, a tarp under the open
sky or even a stable."
"…Yesterday at the foot of Tora Bora in a dry river bed, we
found two tents filled with hundreds of barefoot children. We arrived in 6
cars, two filled with armed foot soldiers of the local warlord. For an hour,
we passed out bags of school supplies, rice & flour. By the end, the
men pushed their kalishnakovs and stingers aside and helped the littlest
ones carry their bundles…"
"…I apologize for not being able to communicate more frequently as it is extremely difficult to call or email from Kabul. We went to Jalalabad close to Tora Bora and distributed school supplies. Can you imagine? Tora Bora -- a dangerous place definitely -- but, how desperately things were needed at this school. We're going to distribute to Paghman tomorrow at a school of 400 girls. The country is totally in pieces and shattered. I cry day and night to see the people being so hopeless and poor. Listening to their stories has been brought tears to my eyes constantly. Very poor and desperate…once you get here and see it, it is beyond imagination this total destruction. Every little bit counts, and is needed in this country. It is so nice to see the sign of hope in the eyes of these children."
"…While it was very depressing to see all the ruined buildings and poverty,
it was a wonderful feeling at the same time to be there. Kabul city was calm and secure, however, we heard a rocket hit Shesh-darak. We do not know if any body was injured or not. We visited Jalalabad, Paghman, and Parwan (Jabulsaraj) and distributed our supplies."
"Spent the day cleaning the technical education center - it's going to be beautiful… The need here is unbearable…"
"Today was our first day at the ARO Tech Center and we all worked very hard...we bought brooms, dust clothes, brushes, trash cans -- you name it and we tried to purchase whatever our budget permitted… our next distribution is in the city of Charikar, to a high school this time, with almost 1,000 students…"
"Yesterday, we went to Paghman and distributed school supplies to 400 boys and girls at a school called "Doda Mast", which means "Food that makes you Drunk" (in other words, you get high from the food or bread). The children were all under tents and on bare land. They told us four NGOs (non governmental organizations) promised to build a school for them, but no one has come through yet. You see the desire to learn, which is wonderful."
"Simply being there, sharing for a brief moment the lives of Afghans, built a small but real bridge between people from two very different cultures. I think if more of those small links can be built, we may have a chance to defuse misunderstandings…"
ARO OPENED THE TECHNICAL EDUCATION CENTER AS PART OF RELIEF TRIP EFFORT
The ARO volunteers also worked on the finishing touches of the new Technical Education Center (TEC) in Kabul, which opened its doors in April 2003 (to see information about the TEC click here). The TEC is located near Kabul University, and classes in English and vocational / job skill training have started. A later relief trip is planned to install and network a large number of computers, for classes on basic computer skills, repair and maintenance. In June, ARO's chairman directed the completion of an additional conference / lecture room at the TEC.
HOW YOU CAN HELP!
The ARO relies solely on volunteer help and donations to accomplish our mission to help the needy in Afghanistan. Volunteers on the relief trips pay their own travel expenses. Funds are always needed to help with shipping costs of high-value or hard-to-obtain items, and for the purchase of additional relief supplies in the local region.
SUPPORTERS AND DONORS MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR AFGHANISTAN
ARO recognizes organizations and communities that contributed to the ARO Spring 2003 Relief Trip and future trips through donations or volunteer help:
- Afghan Academy of Hope (California)
- Afghan American and American community of the State of New Jersey
- Afghan Family Support Network of Contra Costa County (California)
- Afghan Women's' Association of Southern California
- Afghan Women's Mission (California)
- Be The Cause (California)
- Capistrano Unified School District (California)
- Carebridge International (California)
- Crew4U Film Production, David Spencer (Tucson, Arizona)
- Crossroads International (Laguna Beach, California)
- Dayrunner (Fullerton, California)
- Girl Scouts of America (Santa Barbara, California)
- Instorage (California)
- International Orphan Care (Laguna Hills, California)
- International Silks and Woolens (Los Angeles, California)
- Japanese Relief Clothing Center (Japan)
- Kaiser Permanente (Anaheim, California)
- Khyber Pass (Laguna Beach, California)
- Laguna Woods Leisure World (California)
- Pacific Hills Banquet Hall (Laguna Hills, California)
- Pangea Foundation (California)
- Progressive Motion (Los Angeles)
- Riverside County School District (California)
- Soroptimist International of Huntington Beach (California)
- Soroptimist International of San Juan Capistrano (California)
- Walterville Elementary School (Walterville, Oregon)
- World In Need International
- Zee Medical Inc. (California