AFCECO Newsletter: June 2011
Dear Friends of AFCECO orphanages,
It has been an extraordinary month at AFCECO. Though what we describe here would be commonplace and even expected of a normal program serving free, peaceful and prosperous societies elsewhere in the world, here in Afghanistan we feel these to be miracles.
On May 10th AFCECO held an inaugural ceremony to officially announce the opening of the New Learning Center, serving all its Kabul orphanages. The Learning Center is generously supported by USAID through the Asia Foundation. Besides representatives from USAID and Asia Foundation, there were also guests from many organizations including faculty from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, as well as members of the community who over the years have participated in AFCECO programs, volunteers and journalists. Of course along with the well-wishers many of the AFCECO staff and children themselves attended. Director of AFCECO Andeisha Farid addressed the crowd, followed by Christopher McDermott, Education Team Leader for USAID Afghanistan. The children performed a patriotic Afghan song in Dari as well as a nice song in perfect English. One of the older girls also addressed the crowd, giving her perspective of being one of the first generation of children to have been raised in the orphanage program. The ceremony ended with a beautiful Attan dance performed by boys and girls from the orphanage dressed in gorgeous traditional costumes.
Today over 300 children use the Center. They attend classes in all the major subject areas to augment their public curriculum. In addition there is music, art, drama, dance and three days a week a new session of Leadership Workshop for the older girls. We even have a movie viewing area as well, where members of the girls’ soccer team got to watch Manchester United battle Barcelona. Here we are compelled to remind our friends and the world the extent to which these programs go far beyond acknowledged ordinary benefits, particularly for the girls. Keeping in mind women in Afghan society are still imprisoned in a world of conservative laws, customs and traditions, we begin to see how extraordinary this Center is. In many, probably most, homes and villages, a woman’s purpose is merely to look after her husband, if she is not terminally widowed, and her children. In every quarter of the country violence against women is accepted as the norm. We remind ourselves of these realities in so far as they elevate our understanding of just how impactful these programs are for our girls, and in turn just how impactful our girls already are upon Afghan society.
You will understand our excitement then, in telling you yet more news of our girls breaking down barriers and expanding boundaries. On May 13th nine of our younger girls performed in a ballet dance recital with all the children of Kabul Dance Studio. The full program utilized the music and story of The Sound of Music for an inspired interpretation in tap, ballet, jazz and a waltz. The auditorium of Serena Hotel in downtown Kabul was packed with over 400 tear filled sets of eyes as the hard work of Erin Jensen and her staff at the Studio was put on display. The AFCECO girls were dressed in traditional white and danced to Edelweiss. We are totally partial, but seeing those girls expressing themselves so beautifully and confidently to the words, “Bless my homeland forever…” was without exception the greatest breakthrough in Afghanistan’s recent history! Here, dancing by women is generally considered immoral. But these brave and wonderful girls, by dancing on stage, are telling their families and communities that yes, they can be dancers and still be strong, committed Afghans, working hard in every way to show, by example, all the things that women are capable of. Ballet and Attan dancing are celebrations of women’s power and achievement. We thank Erin from the depth of our hearts, and look forward to a continued relationship with her wonderful studio.
Thus, for all the children of Kabul orphanages life has been and continues to be extremely busy. In addition to all the new programs, many of our children enjoy a first rate education program at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Included in this program are special events such as a recent concert in Babur Gardens. Meanwhile the children of our Pakistan and Jalalabad orphanages are winding up their school years, looking forward to the summer break whereupon many will visit their villages and extended families. Not wanting to neglect the older children, many will join us in Kabul and take advantage our programs here. Finally we are excited to announce that the girls’ soccer team is scheduled to scrimmage against the Afghan National Women’s team a week from Thursday. The skill level of our girls has improved dramatically, and this opportunity will help spur them to the next level of play.
So, along with all this great news we particularly want to leave you with this thought: that in this country where women are considered inferior to men, seen as weak, childlike and naive, here is a place of hope. In the AFCECO orphanages are young girls who have lived through horrors and every kind of sadness imaginable, but whose hope is to show that the women of Afghanistan are sleeping lions awakening, with hopes of living independent and productive lives. They are prepared to say no to slavery and oppression by standing on a stage and performing dance, ballet no less! These girls are saying, “I am here and I can do everything!”
We thank all of you who have been standing with us, because none of these great opportunities would have come to fruition without your undying support. The reality for us right now is that we are unfortunately losing sponsors, and are running our orphanages at a deficit that threatens their sustainability. We need support today, in whatever form you can manage, to keep this vision moving forward. In such a devastated country where people from the smallest to largest operations are searching desperately for positive, far-reaching programs to point toward as examples for the future, we feel that over the past six years few have proven nor been awarded for their effectiveness as compared to AFCECO, and invite you to join this effort as we are, truly, one big family. Please spread the word that we need support today.
We thank all of you who have been standing with us, because none of these great opportunities would have come to fruition without your undying support.
The AFCECO staff
by Ian Pounds: http://joomtest.afceco.org/index.php/blog