What happens once we decide to open a new orphanage? In a country at war, after the money is there, the city chosen, the location, the home, the staff, it would seem the task is endless before the children are even selected. Then the real work begins: bring together 60 children from Jalalabad area, Kunar, Laghman and Nuristan Provinces, children who have been in and out of school or never at all, who have lived outside, in the fields and lanes and streets, mostly on their own, and you have uncharted waters where anything is possible. But like a good garden, if all care and work go into preparation, it will grow. Furthermore, if done with adherence to certain techniques and philosophies it will practically take care of itself with only a trace of meddling and a lot of love. This is the case, we trust, with our new orphanage in Jalalabad. With three months until the children begin school, it is time enough for them to learn skills we all take for granted, how to live in a house with other people, to share duties, to take care of their teeth, use and maintain a bathroom, and eat well.


The high ceiling of the orphanage was suddenly filled with rose petals, red and pink and white, floating down upon my head, and in front of me sixty or so of the Mehan girls cheered. “Happy Teacher’s Day!” So begins this week’s journal entry by our volunteer, Ian Pounds. It is safe to say Teacher’s Day is one day of hope and progress in Afghanistan. The zeal with which children universally shower their teachers with love should make clear to everyone just how dearly Afghans value education. On Monday Ian was given a hero’s welcome by the Mehan orphanage children and staff only to wind up for a second celebration at the new orphanage for older boys. Ian teaches 13 different groups of children and directs a singing and drama group. All his programs are continuous and in full gear.


This month was full of dramatic events, a partnership with a local university, a presidential summit, further media coverage, but nothing stands close to the experience of watching 22 orphan girls donning uniforms, 11 red and 11 white, taking an official soccer field by storm. Yes, the first Afghan national girl’s soccer team, right in our own family! Thanks to a generous offer from our new friends at the American University in Kabul, we have full use of their nicely manicured, irrigated, legal sized and marked soccer field. Twice a week for two hours the two teams take lessons and then scrimmage. Their eyes light up, and though they are exhausted they utilize every minute they have of this newfound freedom. The benefits of this outlet cannot be stressed enough. For many of these girls freedom just to run, to shed their scarves, to do what boys only do is emotionally and physically transformative. It also alleviates built up issues connected to trauma in their lives, issues not easily mitigated inside the four walls of the orphanage or the school. The effects can already be seen on their faces. The boys, too, are getting their share of this wonderful resource, as it seems the facility is hardly ever used by the university community.


Naruz, the Afghan New Year may be a time to sit back and reminisce, but this March there was little opportunity to languish. On four fronts people are working daily to facilitate and usher in this period of growth as smoothly as possible without, (as often happens with grassroots organizations that prove effective and then get all kinds of attention) removing a finger from the pulse of our original mission and philosophy.


March is a month of new beginnings, literally on the 20th, Vernal Equinox. On that day is Nourz, what Afghan people celebrate as New Year’s. School begins after a long winter break, and the children who have been visiting their relatives have already begun to return. Those who travelled to Italy have also returned. They are all excited and full of stories to tell, so you sponsors who wish to write can ask them to share their experiences with you in writing. (It is good practice for them!)

AFCECO is an Afghan non-profit organization based in Kabul running orphanages and educational centers for Afghan orphans and street children.


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