Friday, October 13, 2006

Field Trip - School

Last week I had the opportunity to go with the 2nd Brigade ETT team – my team from Utah, on trip to a local school to deliver candy, backpacks and school supplies. It was quite the experience. (It was the day that Subject A assaulted the soldier. That story, or should I say epic, begins further down the blog entries.)

The school was composed of separate building with 1-2 rooms a piece. There were even a couple of tents set up to house the kids. The buildings surrounded a courtyard with a well off to one side. Boys and girls are separated into their own classes. As we stood in the courtyard, I first noticed all the shoes and sandals outside each classroom. I can’t tell you why the site struck me, but it did. I can’t explain what I thought or felt at seeing all the shoes outside. As I went inside the classrooms, I decided that taking off the shoes was strictly a cultural thing and not a cleanliness thing as the classroom floors were pretty dirty.

I then noticed the boys looking outside the windows at us. The girls, most of them, would not look at us. In fact, when we were inside the girls classrooms, several of them would hide their faces behind pieces of paper or use their scarves to cover themselves. It’s a cultural thing. In fact, one soldier later told Aaron that we needed to stop taking so many pictures of the girls. I don’t know if the soldier was joking or not but said that if we took too many pictures, the girls families would take us out back and kill us. I hope he was joking.

I walked up to one of the windows to talk with the boys. Of course I know very few words in Dari and they knew very few words in English. It was fun though to try to communicate. A couple of them got brave and shook my hand. That broke the dam. Several then crowded to the window and tried to pull me into the room. It was fun.

The senior officers of both the ANA and US Army were the ones to pass out the candy to the kids in the classroom. The kids sat in straight rows on the threadbare carpets on cement floors. The officers went from child to child passing out handfuls of candy. You could see the excitement in their eyes.

(That's the teacher in the background.)

The classrooms themselves are pretty bleak. Cracked and peeling paint, if they were even lucky to have paint on the walls. A couple had blackboards but most simply painted the wall black and wrote on that with chalk. No pictures on the walls, nothing interesting for the kids to look at. It was pretty austere. As I said, they sit on the floor. I imagine that it gets pretty cold in the wintertime, sitting on cold concrete. If I were to look at the buildings, not knowing what they were, I would have imagined they were abandoned. They just had that look. But then, most of the buildings here that are being used have that same look. Not a lot of money or supplies to keep things looking new.

As I looked at the supplies the kids had, it was not much. Each had some type of notebook with a few sheets of paper. I didn’t see what they were using to write with although later, a lot of the kids asked for pens. I didn’t have any to give and they seemed disappointed. I imagine paper, pens, folders, backpacks, and all the other things school kids need would be helpful. It was cool to see so many kids with American style backpacks. I knew that they had come from many people like you who had taken the time to send things.

Outside the school compound were several dozen kids. Since I wasn’t senior enough to be passing out candy inside I decided to go outside. Scott Flannery, my roommate, had given me a huge bag of Dum-Dum suckers. I stuffed my pockets full of them and passed them out. As you can imagine, I got mobbed. It was fun but at the same time a little disconcerting. I felt like I was in the middle of a feeding frenzy of sharks. So many little hands grabbing and snatching at the suckers. To get them away, I finally started throwing in the air, away from me. It was fun to watch them dash to grab the last sucker. It reminded me of kids chasing candy after a piñata has been broken open.

I knew that there would be a few little kids that didn’t get anything so I made sure to hide a few suckers in other pockets. Sure enough, I found some small kids that I was able to give suckers to. It was a lot of fun.

Oh, the candy we passed out – it came from several of LTC Ken Mundt’s friends and corporate folks he knows. He asked that Halloween candy be sent. His friends responded. One night he got so many boxes of candy, he had to get his truck to load all the boxes on and get back to his room. I bet we passed out 50 lbs or more of candy. It made me realize the generosity of those back home who are willing to take the time to buy and send us this stuff for the kids.

Kudos to you all.

This last picture is Merrill and I with the local village elders. They were there to discuss a humanitarian project with Ken. I don't think they wanted their picture taken either, even though they gave their permission before we took it.

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