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                                    Hearing the call of an Afghan school in need

                  Young riders collect school supplies, more to help other children

                                 Photo Courtesy of Parker Lovell

Riders from Cash Lovell Stables and Riding Academy pose  for a photo with Shamim Jawad (rear center right) during a visit to the Afghan Embassy in Washington to deliver supplies for a school in Afghanistan.


By Lisa O'Donnell | Journal Reporter

Published: January 25, 2010

In parts of Afghanistan, girls come to school with only a pencil and a piece of paper. When they finish an assignment, they erase their work so they can reuse the paper.

Nancy Hawley heard about this and other stories about schools in Afghanistan from Shamim Jawad, the wife of Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad. The two met in October at a women's leadership forum in Miami.

Shamim Jawad's heart-wrenching tales about a school in Bamiyan that her foundation helped build captivated Hawley, who is a vice president of manufacturing at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

"Shamin loves her country. She has a great deal of passion for her work. That passion was just contagious," Hawley said.

Heading to the airport for her flight home, Hawley called Parker Lovell of Cash Lovell Stables and Riding Academy.

"Parker," she said, "I really think there's something we can do to help."

The women tapped into a resource they knew would rally around the cause -- the 14 children representing the riding academy at a national competition.

In keeping with the academy's goal of building character, this year's national team decided to adopt a cause.

The students at the Bamiyan school became their cause. The girls spent their own money or called upon relatives to buy backpacks that they stuffed with pencils, paper, erasers, pencil sharpeners and puzzles. Some added personal touches, such as stuffed animals, homemade artwork and pictures of horses.

Felicia Elliott, 9, said she had fun filling a backpack.

"I put in toothpaste and a toothbrush so she can be nice and fresh for school and ready to learn," Felicia said.

The drive expanded to include riders who weren't on the national team."It was a barnwide effort," Lovell said.

In all, the children at the barn filled 110 backpacks.

Last weekend at Jawad's invitation, Hawley and a group of about 30 children and their parents traveled to Washington to deliver the backpacks and have tea at Afghanistan's embassy.

The adults made sure the children were well-versed in manners. Felicia recalled one bit of advice: "Three bites and three sips of anything won't kill you."

At the embassy, Jawad talked to them about the school in Bamiyan.

The children asked about horses, holidays and the types of games Afghan children play. Some of the parents noticed that when Jawad talked about a game she would often add, "But these aren't for girls."

Monica Semans, who made the trip with her daughters, Carver and Merrick, said that the children were enthralled by Jawad's talk. "She spoke to them at their level," she said. "She was very humble and very gracious."

The group spent about two hours at the embassy. Afterward, they toured the White House and the Capitol.

"I was very touched and moved by their effort to want to help the children of Afghanistan," Jawad wrote in an e-mail. "I admire Nancy and the parents of the children for encouraging and leading their children toward humanitarian work and involving them in such meaningful initiatives."

The school is in a remote area of Afghanistan where giant statues of Buddha once stood before they were torn down by the Taliban. Jawad said she hopes that the supplies can be delivered by March, when the children return to school. Some of the supplies may be flown in with the help of the U.S. military.

"It will mean so much to them to know that children in another part of the world are thinking about them," Jawad said.

Lovell said that the trip taught children and adults about the plight of children, particularly girls, in Afghanistan.

"It's been an eye-opening experience for all of us because we live in such an insulated world," she said. "It is stunning for us to think that a child would covet a pencil and backpack."

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