While the children are busy with their winter programs, back in AFCECO’s offices we are planning for the new school year that begins the end of March. We expect 2012 to be a crucial year of enhancing existing programs while strengthening our sustainability. Most exciting is that plans are in the works to establish an Activity Resource Center in Kabul large enough to serve 600 children. In tandem with this we would create smaller versions in our Jalalabad and Herat orphanages. We have received funding to continue our Leadership Academy, and will extend extracurricular programs such as soccer, karate, photography and ballet classes.

Meanwhile, AFCECO's foreign mentorship programs are moving along wonderfully. Our first and most enduring program is the Aquilone Project, located in Milan, Italy. Each winter season when the children are on vacation from school a group of them journey to Europe to experience life in a developed nation. Our Italian friends host the children in various homes, where a sense of extended family is developed. It is no surprise that the children easily settle into a familial way just as they have learned from being in the orphanage. The mostly twelve-year old children go to school from Monday to Friday in the morning to experience what a western education looks like. They sit in on Italian, English, math, geography, computer, gymnastic, music, and art classes. Twice a week in the afternoon they go to the swimming pool where they receive swimming instruction. Some children who have special interest attend a music class. There are a variety of everyday activities available, such as basketball, tennis, writing, music, dance, karate, and even skiing. Of course there is always an outing to one of the highlights of any visit to Italy: Venice, and perhaps the most heartening and immeasurable experience of all, cycling carefree and in complete safety.

In America, our three emissaries from last year’s Leadership Academy, Pashtana, Manizha and Sahar are half way through their immersion in all the educational and experiential opportunities available to even the luckiest of typical teenagers there. While based with host families who themselves are professional educators, the girls sharpen their reading, writing and speaking skills and enjoy family life in its best sense. They visit local schools, take courses, shadow professionals and university students through their day. Their teacher, Ian Pounds is there to supervise their programs, and is bringing the girls along as he tours the country giving presentations about AFCECO and raising much needed support and sponsorship. Most recently the girls raised over a thousand dollars at a fundraising presentation in Hartford, Connecticut. Ian tells us the girls are fast becoming “emerging Andeisha’s”, able to reach out to a wide spectrum of people in any environment, all to raise awareness and support for their beloved orphanages.

We at AFCECO strongly believe in experiential education as a compliment to regular schooling, for the children to develop worldliness, communication skills and an understanding of different cultures first hand. The children touch the hearts of hundreds of westerners who might otherwise never know the true spirit of Afghanistan, and they come home to the orphanage with a widened sense of the world that they in turn share with their big AFCECO family.

While AFCECO has landed some grant money for specific programs, we are in a very difficult situation regarding sustainability. We have not seen the seasonal surge in sponsorship of children that we count on each winter. Many children are unsponsored, and many more are only partially sponsored. This means we run orphanages at a deficit. Additionally, in the climate of opportunism extant in Kabul every year our landlords raise the rent for our homes dramatically. We urge you who can best spread the enthusiasm we all share for the orphanages and the positive and lasting change we are making to please entreat your friends and neighbors to consider sponsoring a child. If each of you on our mailing list recruits just one sponsor, it would tilt the scale dramatically in our favor. Our web site has been updated with a new look and a wide variety of content, so that people can really get a thorough understanding of our activities. Of particular interest are all the photographs and videos people can see on the site. We venture to say that in this case, seeing is believing.