December 2012 News Letter
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As the year draws to a close we at AFCECO wish to share with you our reflections upon 2012. For the children it was a year of dramatic growth and opportunities, even in the face of adversity for our organization. No matter what transpires outside the sphere of the orphanages and programs, our priority is always to insulate the children from the various pressures as much as possible and nurture an environment that is expansive, secure and supportive as one big family. We combat the forces that have divided Afghan society and marginalized girls’ opportunities by upholding diversity as a most important source of strength— diversity of children living together and diversity of experience and education.
January through to the start of school in March was an international season for the children. Twelve of our younger boys and girls visited Italy for six weeks, participating in our annual cultural exchange. Over in the U.S. six of our older children made history on a three-month tour of America in an RV, putting on over 10,000 miles and experiencing everything from Broadway to the Golden Gate. They engaged with Americans from every walk of life and of every age.
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At this time our Herat children were off to their regular school year as they take their long winter break while our Jalalabad children were busy with their school program. Meanwhile back in Kabul the children continued course work at our New Learning Center, huddling together through a cold and snowy Afghan winter. They celebrated the International Day of the Woman with performances, speeches, and award ceremony.
We have so many people to thank including sponsors, friends, teachers and staff who helped us throughout this year. Sponsor Terry Cardwell once again contributed to the sustaining of our Herat orphanage and education program. Richard Riess continued his support of our college scholarship program and our soccer program. Ian Pounds volunteered a fourth year, first leading the America tour, then teaching all the children at the learning center and continuing to write grants.
We also particularly thank Dr Ahmad Naser Sarmast, Founder and Director of Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) who enrolled 30 of our children in his school, with additional children slated to join them in 2013. Five veteran students of ANIM now teach children at New Hope orphanage, donating instruments and helping organize concerts. During their winter academy music performances were given every week, sharing music from around the world with our children.
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In partnership with the Nowruz Commission, we reunited in a huge central Kabul park to celebrate what used to be a most profound and culturally wholesome Afghan tradition: our New Year’s celebration on the first day of spring. Over 20,000 citizens attended this event that included a parade by AFCECO’s children, award ceremony and sporting exhibitions. These were followed by pop concerts by famous Afghan singers that dazzled the public and news media, broadcasting everywhere across the country the AFCECO message of investing in our poorest and most vulnerable children to safeguard the future of our country.
All the while our New Hope orphanage thrived in its first year of operation, housing ninety girls in a new neighborhood and hosting our very own music program. Derek Hammond, a tried and true friend of AFCECO going back to our beginning, orchestrated the complete funding of this orphanage in a new neighborhood closer to our offices. Almost weekly we held concerts by children and their teachers, birthday celebrations, cultural events to commemorate positive elements in Afghan tradition and history, awards banquets and other events that included special guests from a European concert pianist to Afghan royalty.
The New Learning Center was up again after we had to move the facility to a new location after the old landlord suddenly requested a huge increase in rent. Two years running now, this center has benefitted the children greatly as their ranking at the public school now fills the top positions at all grade levels. In addition our students benefit from additional programs no other Afghan students have access to: visual art, computer programming, advanced English, music, drama, and Leadership Workshop.
Our athletic programs continued this year, including girls’ soccer and boxing for boys. We are especially proud of our girls’ karate team as they took all gold medals in an open Kabul competition.
Providing academic support, sports, art and music is not by any standard a corrupting influence on children, but there are forces in Afghanistan that see these activities and leap to the conclusion we are “westernizing” or even “Christianizing” them. As anyone who supports AFCECO knows we instill in our children a sense of pride in their country, in its oldest traditions that are healthy, and a very Afghan feeling of commitment to serving the needs of their people who suffer from war, poverty and inequality. But this year extreme elements both within the government and among the fundamentalist Taliban have chosen to threaten us and are driven to essentially shut us down, commanding us to turn our orphanages into conservative madrasas with none of the programs we offer and that would treat girls as second-class citizens. Because of the threats our long-time teacher and volunteer Ian Pounds was forced into hiding, and Andeisha herself could no longer safely visit her own learning center. The girls have been harassed on their way to school and even treated badly by their teachers due to the lies that have been spread in the neighborhood. AFCECO is under attack, inconceivable as it is with all the real problems facing the Afghan people.
We depend on you to help us through these trying times. We will face particular hurdles to ensure security for our orphanages in the face of our adversaries. Thanks to Vital Voices we were able to gain some additional support in the U.S. where Andeisha recently attended a fundraising event. But right now we need additional help to offset the decrease in child sponsorship and the rise in cost of living here in Afghanistan, especially the rental fees of our homes. It has been an extraordinary year for the children, but as insecurity and uncertainty increases we will face some greater challenges in continuing all the programs we’ve described here. We feel there is no better model for the future of Afghanistan than our orphanages, islands of real and lasting hope for a people that continue to suffer after so many decades of strife. We also feel there is no better model of people from within Afghanistan and all around the world working productively together to create peace and prosperity than you, our AFCECO family. However you can help, please we need it now.
Please see the latest photos and video from our programs and orphanages on YouTube and Facebook