May 12, 2009
Fourth-graders reach out to Afghani kids
Items sought for May 23 fundraiser in Cortland
Fourth grader Gabrielle Keeney and her pack of friends at Randall Elementary aren’t waiting around for a bunch of grown-ups to reach out to kids in Afghanistan.
They are going ahead and doing it themselves.
Gabrielle, 10, and five other girls, horrified to learn of the abuse women and children have faced in war torn Afghanistan, have formed a club with Kathleen Elliott-Birdsall, special education teacher at the school, called Freedom to the Seventh Power.
Inspired by Deborah Ellis’ fictional series of books like “Parvana’s Journey,” based on real life events in Afghanistan, the club meets every week to exchange ideas, learn about the country and figure out how they can help. The girls decided to hold a special garage sale with all proceeds going to a charity to provide school supplies to an Afghanistan school.
Elliott-Birdsall said she is suggesting funds go to Greg Mortenson’s charity. The co-author of “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time,” Mortenson is cofounder of the nonprofit Central Asia Institute, which promotes community based education and literacy, especially for girls, in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The CAI has established “Pennies for Peace” charity, gathering cents that in these two countries can go toward pencils and the start of literacy.
“We are going to sell as much as we can and the money we make we are sending to Afghanistan,” said Alexis Snyder, 9.
The sale will take place May 23 at 40 Madison St., Cortland, where Elliott-Birdsall lives. A corner of her classroom contains stacks of items and clothing that the girls have gathered from classmates and teachers. They’ve got videos, clothing, purses, toys, and books thus far. People are welcome to drop off items they’d like to donate for the cause at the school’s main office. Items in good condition are sought.
“We want something in the newspaper so we can get it out there,” said Gabrielle.
The girls in the club, Jacqueline Fuller, 10, Dallas Lang, 10, Melissa Metcalf, 10, Gabrielle, Arianna Pierce, 9, and Alexis Snyder, 9, meet every Friday at noon, skipping out of their free play times, to figure out how they can help people in Afghanistan, which is dealing with Taliban and American forces in battle, poverty and repression toward women.
“That’s how much we care about the program, we miss recess for it,” said Dallas.
Gabbrielle and Jackie had the idea for the club and the other girls quickly jumped on board. They got hooked on Ellis’ books, which feature a female protagonist who is homeless and hooks up with other orphans in search of her parents.
“We are doing this because we have seen pretty bad pictures of kids and even babies that were hurt,” said Jacqueline.
“Some people in Afghanistan have to hide books and stuff, because of the Taliban,” said Alexis. “A woman can’t leave the house and go outside without a man or a small child,” she said. If they are alone, they need a note from their husband and have to wear a burqa, a cloth mask over their head and most of their face. If they don’t do this, they could get thrown in jail or have acid thrown in their eyes, the girls say.
The Taliban were overthrown in 2001 and under its rule, women were not able to leave their home without a male, had to cover themselves from head to toe and were not able to work, according to Afghanistan Online, The Plight of Afghan Women. After 2001, women were able to go back to work and are not forced to cover themselves, but are still repressed in rural areas. According to Integrated Regional Information Networking, a United Nations news service, as of March 2007, 87 percent of Afghan women were illiterate, 30 percent of girls have access to education and one in three Afghan women experience either physical, psychological or sexual violence.
“We thought, man, this is so bad, so we researched it and formed a club,” said Alexis.
“When we read we get these pictures, we get images in our heads,” said Gabrielle.
“It’s horrible that people go through that torture. I could never deal with that,” said Dallas.
Just last November, three girls were attacked by men in Kandahar by being sprayed by acid on their way to an all girls school, according to a Radio Free Europe report in 2008.
“Human beings are being treated like garbage. We are like kings and queens,” said Alexis. “It makes us feel a lot better that we can actually do something to help.”
“That kids can make a difference,” said Melissa.
Gabrielle said her 12 year old brother says: “What can you do?”
“If I have to talk to President Obama, I will,” she said, drawing her 10 year old frame up sharp. “So why don’t you be quiet.”
Elliott-Birdsall said she is excited and proud that the girls know that they can make a difference — that they can connect with girls around the world.
“I think it’s nice to see them very passionate about a cause,” said Mary Kate O’Neill, special education teacher helping out on the project. “This is what you go into education for,” said Elliott-Birdsall.
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