Visiting Aschiana

Trust in Education first helped Aschiana in November 2008, when the organization distributed some of our donated clothing. So on our next trip in April 2009, we visited with Aschiana’s founder and spent over two hours distributing knitted hats, artwork from American children, and Girl Scout cookies to the street children at the center. The organization and its work so impressed us that we decided to find sponsors for children.

Within two months, we had found sponsors for 40 children, and more were being added every month. By November 2009, we had 70 street chlldren sponsored through TIE and we visited Aschiana again to participate in payday for them.  Since the schools were closed (due to unfounded swine flu scare–there were very few verifiable cases), Aschiana’s case worker and Qudsia rounded up as many of the children for our visit as they could.

The children sat patiently as each one was called up to receive the monthly stipend for attending school. A small cadre of mothers accompanied the children. (Only one man came, accompanying his little brother.) Some of you should join Nabi and Budd on one of our visits and experience the gratitude of these women. Not a word is spoken. The body language and eye contact are overpowering and humbling. We paid the stipends directly to the children, not their guardians. Even if they didn’t hold the funds beyond the gate, they experienced the sense of having earned it.

We delivered several letters and photos that were sent to us by sponsors and we attached a Dari translation to each letter.  (For those few letters that arrived too late for us to translate, the children waited until after everyone had gone for Qudsia to translate their letters.)  Qudsia and I spent time with each child. We provided what information we knew about their sponsors and discussed each photo.  The photo of one sponsor, Bobbie Boyer, sitting on a horse, was a big hit, as were photos of families with their pets.

It was uplifting and saddening to be in the room.  I thought about the fact that the difference between these children receiving an education – or not – is $40 a month. That realization only intensifies upon returning home to the U.S., where I have become acutely aware of my and others’ consumerism. It’s an unavoidable consequence of assisting the poor. You cannot erase from your memory what you’ve seen or learned.  The uplifting part is knowing full well that 70 sponsored children is just the beginning, and that, for these 70, there is a beginning.

Shortly after our visit, Basir and Maiwand helped install ten computers in a classroom provided by Aschiana.  It took another four months to find a teacher, but then computer classes began!  The  street children sponsored through TIE were encouraged to take the computer classes. The reality is they need no encouragement. They only need the time, which you and I can afford to buy for them.

 

The teacher, Mehrab Karimi, started as a student at Aschiana and is now a valued member of its staff. He should relate well with the street children.  He was once one himself.

The computers were donated by the law firm of Farella, Braun & Martel, in San Francisco. They upgraded their act and made it possible for us to do the same. What is equally exciting is the potential of introducing Skype into the sponsorship program. Imagine sponsors being able to see and talk to the children they’re sponsoring! Many of the sponsors are children attending schools in the Bay area. The gap between our world and Kabul will be reduced to nanoseconds. Gaining access to the internet has its challenges, including economic. The internet may also have its detractors, because it’s clearly an instrument of modernity. Stay tuned. The street techies saga has just begun, with a room full of very happy street children.

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