I have a friend in the Air Force who was stationed in Afghanistan, and who happens to be a very good writer. While in Afghanistan, she wrote lengthy emails about her experiences, the people she met, and what she was missing at home. She’s funny. One letter in particular struck me. She told the story of the Colonel she was working with in the Afghan Army. He told her he would miss her when she was gone, that it encouraged him and gave him hope to see strong and smart American woman working hard. He has two daughters, one is a teacher, the other a student. He also has sons. His younger daughter, Lima, is in the tenth grade. The Colonel has to spend practically all his money getting her safely to and from school. In Afghanistan, many people don’t think girls should be educated at all, and have attacked girls on their way to school, and even poisoned an entire school of girls. The Colonel had to forgo buying medicine for his son in order to pay for Lima’s security. On the same day I read that letter from my friend, I read an article in The New York Times about a six year old Afghan girl who was given to a man to repay a $2500 debt owed by her father. It is heartbreaking. The article mentions that the man to whom she will be married has demanded they stop sending her to school, as it is embarrassing for his family.
I have a young daughter. She is demanding. She is extremely clever. She is hysterically funny, and makes me completely mental sometimes, and I would do anything – absolutely anything for her. I talked with her about what these girls go through in Afghanistan, just to get an education, and she chose it as the subject for her, “How to Make a Difference” essay in her third grade class.
We wrote to Lima. My kids have raised money before – for Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, The World Food Programme, and The Red Cross. When we lived in NYC, they would set up a little table in front of our building and could rake in about $200 in a little over an hour selling lemonade and cookies. My kids donate 100% percent of the money they raise. After all, they have food, they have a comfortable home, they have the right to an education. They got lucky by being born to certain parents in America. So when we contacted Lima, we were thinking we could spend an afternoon raising a little money to buy a backpack for each kid in her school, or some notebooks, whatever they might need. We were imagining a little school with maybe fifty students. We were wrong.
Lima wrote that the students needed, “Bags, Notebooks, Pens ( in different colors ), Pencils, Colored Pencils (Crayons ), Erasers, Sharpeners, Rulers, Geometric Kits, Glue Sticks, Tapes, Permanent Markers, Highlighters and Scissors.” So basically, they need everything. I asked how many kids, and she replied, “There are two girls schools one of them has 4700 students in two shifts and my sister is also teacher in here. The other school has 7315 students in three shifts that I studied here up to 7th class.” It was clear a lemonade stand wasn’t going to do the job.
I’m totally daunted by this, but I told Lima I would help. Mostly I want these girls to know that someone in the world is aware of them, and understands their struggle. Obviously I can’t supply 12,000 kids with school supplies. Lima wrote back to tell me that in the primary school, which is the most lacking in supplies, there are 3700 students. That’s a little more manageable. My kids and I figured that maybe we can send some pencils to that school to start, and see how it goes. After all there is nothing more powerful than a pencil. So that’s the goal we have set for now. I would like to send 3700 pencils to the primary school. I have a contact in the Air Force who will give the pencils to Lima’s father.
Yesterday the kids and I went to visit my sister in Tribeca, and had a lemonade stand to get the ball rolling.
We set up shop in front of Goldman Sachs.
We didn’t raise nearly as much as we would have liked. It is much easier to raise money for an organization like Doctors Without Borders, and as the kids pointed out, jaded New Yorkers probably think we are just pocketing the money.
If you’d like to help us Pencil in Afghanistan we will accept any donations – one dollar buys 100 pencils. Or when you’re out doing your back to school shopping, pick up an extra box of pencils. If you live anywhere near me, I’ll come pick them up! Or if you have any other brilliant ideas, I’d love to hear them. You can email PencilinAfghanistan@gmail.com.