Chests of hope offer promise |

Chests of hope offer promise

Veronica Whitney
Afghan children are back in school now that the Taliban is no longer in power.

In Afghanistan, thousands of children who grew up in the midst of drought, famine and wars, had never seen a pencil, a sharpener or any other school suppling until classes started again in March with the end of the Taliban rule.

Most children in Afghanistan spend their time learning to beg or scrounging for food instead of learning at school, reports the American Red Cross. One in every two children in Afghanistan is malnourished, and one in four children will die from before the age of five, reports the United Nation’s Children’s Fund, or UNICEF.

On March 23, thousands of students – particularly girls who under Taliban rule were forbidden from attending classes – were reporting to school for the first time in their lives. During the first day of classes, the American Red Cross sent 1,000 school chests, each full of pencils, notebooks, crayons, rulers and other school supplies for distribution in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

The Vail Valley is joining the American Red Cross’ ongoing relief activities in Afghanistan, with a campaign to fill 400 cases with school supplies before the end of May. The Red Cross plans to provide basic school supplies to approximately 120,000 Afghan children by June 2002.

“There’s been three generations of children in Afghanistan who, because of the wars in that country, haven’t had any education,” says Rick Dunford, one of the organizers of the campaign and a member of the Eagle Rotary Club. “If we can help educate them, maybe we can prevent future terrorism.”

In November, soon after the war started in Afghanistan, Dunford began collecting school supplies for the Afghan children. So far, he has 14 cases full of supplies in his garage in Eagle. But when he realized it would require some strategy to make sure the boxes got to Afghanistan, he contacted the Eagle Rotary Club and the Vail-Eagle Valley Rotary Club.

“Our big concern was getting the supplies from here to there,” says Tom Howard, one of the organizers from the Vail-Eagle Valley Rotary Club. “Normally we would use the (Rotary) club in that country, but we don’t have one in Afghanistan.”

On Friday, the two Rotary clubs, in conjunction with the Eagle County School District, are launching a formal campaign to collect school supplies to send to Afghanistan. The campaign ends on May 16.

President Bush has asked American children to help the Afghan children and work to put together an additional 2,000 school chests for Afghan students by May 31. A single chest contains enough supplies for 40 students.

In Denver, the Mile High Chapter of the Red Cross put together 15 school chests in a month, and the campaign continues, says Matt Bertran, director of marketing and communication for the Mile High Chapter of the Red Cross.

After Friday, supplies can be dropped at the Edwards Building Center, the Vail Daily and the Colorado Mountain News Media Press plant in Gypsum, where they’ll be stored until May 20. Then they’ll be shipped to the Red Cross in Maryland, and from there to Afghanistan.

“We expect to put together 400 cases in a 20-foot-long container,” Howard said.

Jen Brown, spokeswoman for Vail Mountain who is also involved in the program assisting with the publicity, will provide information to the teachers in the schools.

“This is the largest single county initiative of this kind and it’s an opportunity for the children in our community and Eagle County to join efforts with the Red Cross,” Brown said. “We can afford these Afghan children an education.”

The school chests

The Vail-Eagle Valley Rotary Club and the Eagle Rotary Club are accepting school supplies or money to send to the American Red Cross. To add to the relief programs supported by America’s Fund for Afghan Children, the American Red Cross is now putting out the call to children across the country to donate 2,000 school chests by May 31 to help children in Afghanistan. Each chest contains the following items:

– 40 notebooks/notepads composition.

– Books and bound notebooks.

– 120 No. 2 pencils (unsharpened) with erasers.

– 40 small pencil sharpeners.

– 40 metric or metric/English rulers.

– 20 small geometry safety compasses.

– Six boxes of colored chalk.

– Four blackboard erasers.

– 4 packages of drawing paper.

– 40 boxes of eight crayons.

– A tape measure.

– A deflated soccer ball and an air pump.

– 20 jump ropes.

Where to donate

If you’d like to contribute call Linda Lomax at 926-8142, or after May 3 take the supplies to the Vail Daily, the Edwards Building Center or the Colorado Mountain News Media printing plant in Gypsum.

If you’d like to donate or learn more about the America’s Fund for Afghan Children, log on to

The fund’s total donations so far are more than $5.3 million.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 454 or at

Support Local Journalism