by Lt. Col. James Bishop
ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs
7/21/2014 - KABUL, Afghanistan -- Three
military vehicles rolled out of the International Security Assistance
Forces compound on Friday, packed with more than 800 pounds of clothing,
toys, and school supplies for Afghan children. And stuffed in the
pockets of several ISAF troops were lollipops for the children.
The humanitarian items will be shared by PARSA, an organization serving
the disadvantaged in Afghanistan through a wide range of programs, and
Shamsa Village, an orphanage housing 52 children in a residential
This was my first trip outside the cement-walled ISAF compound in three
months. So I loved seeing everything: the chalk art along the ISAF's
blast barriers depicting a dove holding an olive branch, the man selling
watermelons from an ancient wooden cart, the herd of lambs being
shepherded down a main thoroughfare in Western Kabul, the burqua-clad
women. We drove around a traffic circle which had a massive sculpture of
the open Koran in the middle. A few miles later, we passed people
living in the remnants of a crumbling cement building that looked like
it had been torn apart by bombs. We also passed the lovely, gated Baghi
Babur park, its green hills filled with trees.
I was apprehensive about going. The day before we left, insurgents
attacked the Kabul airport from several directions, and the ensuing gun
battle lasted four hours. There had been recent rocket attacks,
vehicle-borne bombs and a motorcycle suicide bomber near our compound in
Kabul. After we left the relative safety of the Green Zone, traffic
jammed to a halt and a motorcycle raced toward us, the driver glaring.
But he passed by, and we weaved in and around traffic to the residential
At the PARSA camp within a Red Crescent compound in Western Kabul,
residents, teenage Afghan Scouts, and a dozen ISAF members formed a
bucket brigade, transferring goods from two SUVs to a storage shed,
laughing as they pitched bulging bags down the line - a sack of stuffed
animals, baby clothes, shoes, a box of notebooks, blankets - under the
hot Afghan sun.
"I loved being able to help the most innocent victims of the long war
here," said Dr. Catherine Warner, Director of ISAF's Telecommunications
Advisory Team, who organized the delivery. "Living and working at ISAF,
we are limited in how much we can personally help the Afghans, but if we
make a difference to even a few children, it's worth the effort."
Soon a group of 10 young children appeared, shy at first, then excitedly
gathering around Lt. Col. Bridget Reynolds, who passed out lollipops.
Although it was during Ramadhan, children typically do not fast. One
savvy child filled his right pocket with lollipops and came back for
"Show me your pockets," Reynolds said. He opened his empty left pocket, smiling.
"It felt fantastic to get out of ISAF, see the kids, and take [needed
items] directly to the organizations that support them," Reynolds said.
"We got to meet the organizers and see their dedication."
After helping to stack the donated goods, PARSA project manager J. Reese
Hume said the gifts will be helpful for both his organization and the
orphanage they partner with, Shamsa Village. Hume, who is from the
United States, has been living in Afghanistan for six years.
"I don't make nearly as much money as I could in the states," he said, "but I've never enjoyed a job as much."
What is the most fulfilling part to Hume? "Spending time with the kids,"
he said, some of whom come from "a horrible background" including opium
villages, households where the children are tortured, sold for their
bodies, or sold as slave labor.
It felt good - great - to know that the children here, at least, were
protected in the compound. They would learn to read and learn a trade.
The smiles were genuine from both the children and the adults. One
Afghan interpreter, whose name I have to withhold for his own security,
came out on his day off to help translate.
After filling the storage area with donated goods, some Afghan Scouts gave a demonstration in knot-tying.
The unloading complete, we passed out more candy, spoke with the scouts,
played with four Labrador Retriever puppies, and visited the Afghan
Garden Kitchen. The cafe is staffed by Afghan hospitality-industry
trainees, another aspect of PARSA's program, which seeks to help older
orphans and impoverished adults transition into the work force.
After an hour, it was time to head back. As the ISAF members prepared to
leave, they shook hands with the older children, receiving a smile and
hearty "Thank you" from each child.
(Lt. Col. James Bishop is deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan. He is Chief of Public Affairs at Westover Air Reserve Base.)