Monday, December 7, 2009
New blackboards, satchels, pencils, books — and hope
By Annabel Venning
Three years ago in Kabul, British soldiers from the support battalion attached to the ARRC, the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, came across a group of tents in one of the city’s mud-walled compounds. The tents were tattered and torn, some of them little more than shreds. But inside were hundreds of Afghan children writing studiously on their laps. The tents were their school, but it was disintegrating all around them, leaving them exposed to the cold. There were no desks or chairs: they had been burnt for fuel in the cold Afghan winter. The school would not last much longer unless something could be done.
Caroline Richards, wife of General Sir David Richards, who was then the ARRC commander and is now the head of the Army, saw pictures of the school and at once decided to help.
Before the ARRC contingent had departed for Afghanistan, they were given a series of briefings at their headquarters in Rheindahlen, Germany, which several of the wives attended. Hearing about life in Afghanistan, where one in five children does not make it to their fifth birthday and literacy rates are only about 30 per cent, or just 5 per cent in Helmand province, many of them felt that they wanted to do something to help, but were not sure how or where.
The pictures of the ragged school gave them a focus. Within a matter of months, through clothing sales, charity runs and bike rides (several of the soldiers in Afghanistan proved to be tireless fundraisers, undertaking sponsored runs around their camps) they had raised the £7,000 needed to save the school.
The money paid for new blackboards as well as desks and chairs, made from laminate this time so that there was no temptation to use them for firewood, and satchels containing rulers, pencils and books for all 1,200 pupils. New tents were donated by army contractors.
British engineers from the ARRC Support Battalion were called in to level the ground, build a cesspit, install portable toilets and dig a deep well. In January 2007 the new tents were erected by ARRC Support Battalion soldiers. When the children arrived at the school after the winter break they were given their satchels by the soldiers and shown to their new desks.
Buoyed by their success, the fundraisers set up a charity, the Afghan Appeal Fund (AAF), to continue raising money for projects in Afghanistan. One of their most successful fundraising schemes thus far is British Army Top Trumps cards: more than 100,000 of the packs have been sold.
Click here for the full report on The Times Online