When thousands of students in Afghanistan return to school next month, they may not have desks to sit at, or roofs over their heads, but they will have basic school supplies, thanks in part to the efforts of thousands of students in the United States.
An Afghan girl writes on her chalkboard, which she received along with a pack filled with other school supplies. American children have donated $50,000 to the cause.
The Blue Pack Project, which is organized and operated by the Washington- based Academy for Educational Development, started up in March 2002, when 40,000 packs of school supplies were sent to Afghan students in refugee camps in Pakistan.
Now, the organization hopes to distribute 200,000 packs, which cost $10 each and include such supplies as pencils, pens, a chalkboard, chalk, paper, and a thermos for clean drinking water, to students in Afghanistan.
First Schooling for Many
The first large shipment— 30,000 bags—is scheduled to go out this week to the provinces of Konar, Jalalabad, Laghman, and Nuristan. A majority of children in the war-plagued country have never been to school, as the extremist Taliban regime had restricted education to a small number of boys, who were taught only basic academic skills. (“Religion Rules Afghan, Pakistani School Day,” Oct. 10, 2001.)
Poverty remains rampant in the country, and the packs are the first items many children can call their own, said Stephen F. Moseley, the president of the AED.
So far, $800,000 has been raised for the project, including $50,000 sent in from students in the United States.
Part of the money is used to purchase the supplies, which are bought in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The AED has hired more than 100 “war widows,” women who have lost their husbands in the fighting that has ravaged the country for the past two decades, to assemble the bags. They are paid 10 cents per bag.
“If they assemble 50 bags in a day, they earn enough money to pay for a good meal, including meat, for a family of five or six,” said Sara Amiryar, the AED’s Blue Pack coordinator in Afghanistan.
Having the proper supplies gets the Afghan students excited about learning, Ms. Amiryar said.
The students “are so appreciative, because they have so little,” she said. “Some kids asked if it was possible to meet one of [the U.S. students] one day and say thank you.”