Locals support afghan children spotlight myeasternshoremd.com

“We have an extremely close working relationships with our Afghan partners,” said Harrington, “We get to know them and their families, and, in turn, we become intimately aware of the problems they are facing. Having spent a year here prior, I was well aware of the situation of many of the women and children in the more rural parts of this country. This is a beautiful culture, and Afghans are some of the most incredibly resilient and family-oriented people.”

The Taliban made it illegal for girls to attend school, to the point where many of the little girls trying to get to schools would be attacked, kidnapped, mutilated or worse. Even though the [Afghani] government has tried to increase the support to girls in school, said Harrington, they cannot always guarantee the safety and security of the girls and many families choose to keep their daughters at home.

When Harrington’s unit arrived at the school, she said they were taken back at the gravity of the situation. There were 2,700 little girls sitting in an open courtyard, on the ground, in 100+ degree heat. They would move the groups of girls around the courtyard as the sun moved to try to keep them in the shade. They had no running water and all of them were using a small hole in the ground for a restroom.

“I received such an incredible outpouring of support that we started to figure out where else we could share the love. People in the village and on the camp started to hear what we were doing and started bringing us new problems: a battered women’s shelter, families freezing without food in the mountains, an orphanage, a maternity clinic, another school, a women’s clinic … and we just kept going, and kept fighting and kept looking for resources,” said Harrington.

Locally, Harrington reached out to her former professors at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills and they helped share the GoFundMe page — raising hundreds of dollars. Niki and Bob Pino at An Optical Galleria in Centreville created fliers and brochures and set up boxes at their shop to collect donations. The Pinos also volunteered to pay for shipping, said Harrington. Also, patrons at Doc’s in Centreville sent numerous supplies, along with the Maryland State Police, who collected supplies at their headquarters and sent boxes as well.

“We delivered tons and tons of supplies — literally tons — of 2,000 plus notebooks, books, whiteboards for all the classrooms, pens, pencils, posters, erasers, stickers and crayons. All donated from strangers around the world. The contrast of the tactical vehicles and the rainbow of crayons and pink notebooks in the back was not lost on us,” she said.

“We sent the boxes to the bravest of Green Berets at an OP who handed them over to local village elders who just re-opened schools that had been closed from the Taliban for years. We found more schools nearby, and we delivered school supplies to them. Meanwhile, local Afghan contractors had their own families making desks and chairs from scratch just to help out.

“We visited an orphanage and women’s center that specializes in keeping children off the street, and instead gives them a quality education and encourages college, and we brought them supplies, too,” said Harrington. “Notebooks, learning materials, flashcards and tons of books. So many books, they were able to build their own library too.”

Behind what Harrington calls all the “awesome photo ops,” they were fighting hard for funding to supply the effort. “We spent countless nights filling out stacks upon stacks of tedious paperwork, applying for Humanitarian grants and funding,” said Harrington, “and when the funds ran out, we raised our own money.” Soldiers donated; friends and families donated. Local bazaar workers collected everything they had, COLs and CSMs shaved their heads, and Harrington herself volunteered to get a tattoo — raising an additional $10,000. Harrington said she could go on and on with the list of those who supported their mission.

“Because of all the amazing, selfless Soldier’s Angels, family, friends and coworkers who sent boxes, who donated online, soldiers — not only U.S., but Slovak, Polish and Afghan — who took their own down-time and off days to do all of this while holding down their full time duties, soldiers who used civilian construction experience to design the school, who risked their lives on missions to get us to orphanages, we did it. We did it because our leadership supported us, encouraged us, and understood it was important, not just to the locals, but to the youngest soldiers here who maybe didn’t understand the implications of this 16 year conflict completely.

“Plenty of days I just plain quit,” Harrington said. “I quit during arguments at ANA checkpoints, and during long convoys. I quit when we faced incomprehensible corruption and collusion head-on. I quit when I realized the problem was so much bigger than a few notebooks and a stuffed animal. I ugly cried after talking to female burn victims, and I spent hundreds of hours researching how to adopt every orphaned child and puppy here. ‘I quit’ became a running joke.” And the next day an email would arrive that said ‘when you decide you’re done quitting, 4,000 children’s jackets just arrived.’”

Those days of struggle were offset by the visible results of Harrington and her team’s actions, where she says she witnessed women cry tears of happiness and relief when they hugged her or held her hand a little tighter; watching young Afghan girls taking a chemistry test or getting 100 packages from complete strangers or pictures of kids enjoying their loot.

“I’ve spent a lot of time here and understand that one school building, some stuffed animals and a few blankets aren’t going to change the future of a country that has been in turmoil for thousands of years. But I also believe that educating the next generation and giving them a voice in their own future is one of our best hopes as a force over here. At the end of the day it just comes down to basic human compassion and love for fellow humankind in general.

“I believe that as Americans, we often lose sight of the incredible opportunities we are given daily. Clean water, food, shelter and education. I’m just as guilty. Every deployment I promise myself I won’t take anything for granted when I come home, and a week later I’m complaining about traffic on the Bay Bridge with my heated seats on. It’s very easy to watch the news and feel hopeless or anxious about the state of this country, but the kindness, support, love and drive to help our efforts here from every single state and around the world tell me it’s going to be OK.”

For those who would like to donate or get involved, Harrington shared the following links of organizations that are continuing to work in Afghanistan. Playground Builders builds playgrounds for children in war-torn countries, www.playgroundbuilders.org. They helped build the playground at Harrington’s clinic. Hoopoe Books in California, hoopoebooks.com, which works to ensure children in Afghanistan have their own books to hold onto and learn with, and Soldiers Angels, soldiersangels.org. You can go online and sponsor a soldier or a group of soldiers, and something so simple as sending a birthday card or a quick note to say hi, and it means to the world to a deployed serviceman, Harrington said.

“We don’t have to all drop what we are doing, give up all our worldly possessions, and fly across to the world to help people. Maybe for some, that’s their calling,” she said. “But instead maybe we should look to the group of Centreville students as an example. Did they give up every piece of candy they had and empty their toy boxes and bank accounts? No. Probably not. But they came together — together being the key word — and gave what they could, and by each of them contributing just a little, they raked in 125 lbs. If we all just did a tiny bit more, together we could be unstoppable.”