Nestled behind a large blue gate and concrete walls among the busy, dusty and littered streets of Kabul lies a sanctuary for young girls with no homes, and little to no family. This place provides a warm place for the girls to sleep during the cold Afghanistan winters, a place for the girls to play in a city ravaged by war, and it’s a place for the girls to learn in a country where women are often times denied the right to an education. It’s an orphanage aptly called Save the Children, and its mission: To give abandoned or otherwise misplaced girls the opportunity to create a life for themselves.
Save the Children was founded in 2002 and, like many social institutions in Afghanistan, is reliant on the donations and good will of others to ensure its longevity. This is where the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan comes in. Maj. Gen. Ed Reeder, commander of SOJTF-A, has made it a personal mission of his to ensure the orphanage and the girls are taken care of and given an opportunity to thrive. As part of the Commander’s Emergency Response Funding program, Reeder has been able to purchase computers for the girl’s classrooms, upgrade the heating in the rooms the girls sleep and learn in, and provide necessities such as sheets, hot water, tables and pots and pans for the orphanage.
Recently, Reeder and volunteers from a military base located in Kabul, visited the orphanage to provide the girls with career-oriented Barbie dolls, hygiene items, toys and candy- all donated by The Toy Industry Foundation, a U.S. based nonprofit organization, and Mattel Inc. toy company.
One-by-one, as the girls were given a Barbie doll their eyes would light up. For many, this is their first doll. Some of the girls anxiously open the packaging, kissing their Barbie; others don’t even open the packaging, cherishing the gift as if it were their first and last. But, all the girls smile and laugh as they play with the dolls, rearranging the dolls’ accessories, clothes and hair.
Reeder says it’s all about providing the girls a safe and secure place to learn. “It’s about education for me, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “For an orphan girl in Afghanistan, life will be very hard. They don’t have fathers to court a marriage for them, and once they turn 18 and can no longer stay at the orphanage, there’s a chance they will end up being nothing more than a housewife to a man three or four times their age. That’s why I want to make sure these girls are given every opportunity to get an education, go to college and build a life for themselves.”
Reeder’s sentiments echo those of the director of the orphanage, Dr. Sayid Reeza. As part of the girl’s education curriculum, they are taught how to sew, how to do hair and nails, and how to work with a computer, skills that can help them get a job once they graduate. Additionally, many of the girls know up to five languages- Dari, Pashtu, English, Urdu and Arabic, a large feat for a country such as Afghanistan where the illiteracy rate is more than 75 percent and most people only speak the language of their tribe. The girls are also encouraged to go to college, a rarity in a society that frowns upon education for women.
Since the school has opened, 24 girls have gone to college said Reeza, and another 81 girls have been reunited with their birth families.
“When I come to the school and I see the girls playing and laughing, that fulfills me,” Reeza said.
The 80 young girls that currently live at the orphanage, ages four to 18, are already thinking about their future and what they want to be when they grow up. “A teacher, a pilot, a doctor, a journalist,” they each say when Reeder asks them about their future plans.
In the future, Reeder would like to see the school equipped with video teleconference capabilities so the girls can get lessons from teachers in the States. He is also looking at getting new insulated windows for the school.
But, in the meantime, Reeder just wants each of the girls to concentrate on their studies.
“Education gives you the opportunity to do anything in life,” Reeder said. “I encourage you all to study very hard, listen to your teachers, and life will present many opportunities to you.”