Afghan orphans get weekly visits from U.S. soldiers

Monday, July 29, 2002

CHARIKAR, Afghanistan -- The 30 children sat patiently on the floor, but their wide eyes showed their curiosity as U.S. soldiers carried box after box of supplies into the crumbling, mud brick room.

The boys and girls at Rosantun Orphanage look forward to this weekly visit, knowing the soldiers will bring much needed food and school supplies -- and maybe a few surprises.

"Today, we brought you some toys sent from America," said Maj. Bryan Cole, who has been leading the orphanage visits for the last month.

Soldiers moved through the rows of eager children, handing out dolls, balls, a Frisbee and a box of Disney stickers.

Nazi, 7, a purple-print scarf over her head, shyly took a small stuffed bear dressed as a joker. She has made many friends in her one month at the orphanage and she enjoys the school lessons.

"After I leave here, I will go to university," she said quietly during the Saturday visit. "I want to be a teacher."

Orphanage director Mohammad Tahrir Qaimi said most of the more than 100 children here have lost both of their parents, mainly in the wars. Some lost only their fathers, and their mothers brought them here to be cared for and educated. The orphanage teaches the children the three R's: reading, writing and arithmetic.

The children, some as young as 5, stay until they are 12 and then most go to orphanages in Kabul, Qaimi said. Adoption is uncommon in Afghanistan.

Although most soldiers at nearby Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, are focused on pursuing Taliban and al-Qaida renegades, Cole and other members of his civil affairs battalion work to foster warmth and social cohesion in a long-suffering country.

Cole pulled bags of markers and pens from one box, donated by a Girl Scout troop in Lexington, Ky.

"They wanted to make sure the girls and boys in Afghanistan got these pens," he explained before handing them out.

Nazi, given a piece of paper, wrote her name with the brown marker she was given. Her friend Diboh, 8, wrote her name in blue, smiling happily.

"I want you to use the school supplies to study very hard and the toys to have fun," Cole told the children.

"Tashakor," the children chanted in unison in Dari. Then, "Thank you."

Out in the garden, a reservist from Beacon, N.Y., identifying herself as Julia was teaching some of the boys, most of them barefoot, to play Frisbee and throw an American football with just the right spin. They laughed as the Frisbee flew in all directions as the kids got the knack.

"Last year I was teaching my students that Afghanistan was the worst country to live in," said Julia, who at home teaches high-school social studies. "Now, to be able to play Frisbee here, it makes it all worthwhile."

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