Supporting a New Generation of Afghan Leaders

Kids being kids at an AFCECO orphanage. I wish I'd seen more happy, healthy kids like these during my time in Afghanistan--which is why AFCECO is so important to me.

Kids being kids at an AFCECO orphanage. I wish I’d seen more happy, healthy, growing kids like these during my time in Afghanistan–which is why AFCECO is so important to me.

The war in Afghanistan is fading from U.S. headline news, and that’s a good thing. But what isn’t good is that important causes and partnerships made between Afghans and Americans appear to be fading as well–when Afghans need our solid support now more than ever as their country moves beyond these last four decades of upheaval and conflict.

The Cause:

One important cause I have supported since 2006 is the Afghan Child Education & Care Organization (AFCECO), an Afghan-led program providing high-quality education and support for Afghan children who are orphans or from families who cannot care for them. Boys and girls from all ethnic groups learn to live with and respect one another as a large family, and in addition to their academic studies, they learn computer literacy, play music and sports, and are taught to value the proud history and culture of their country. These children stay connected to their home villages and neighborhoods, and many are going on to study in universities and are preparing themselves to step up as exactly the kind of young leaders and innovators Afghanistan will need to move forward into a bright future. I really cannot overstate what an amazing and effective program this is.

The problem is that the network of western supporters AFCECO has relied upon these last years has waned. Even as AFCECO’s Afghan leadership and staff have been ramping up their efforts and expanded to reach as many children as possible– enthusiasm and urgency of financial support for these efforts has been in steep decline. Supporters have simply dropped off. As a result, AFCECO has been forced to close some of their facilities and scale back their efforts. In my opinion, they should be expanding, not contracting.

What You Can Do:

Here’s what I’m asking of my blog audience: please help. There’s no shortage of important causes in the world and in your lives, but even just a few dollars or a small effort from each of you will go a long way. Here are a few things you can do:

1. If you’re in NYC, please attend a fundraiser in Manhattan on Thursday, June 19. A handful of Afghan writers are hosting this at the Society for Ethical Culture, and the cost of attendance is $100–all of which will go toward their fundraising goal of $10,000 for AFCECO. This should be a fantastic and memorable event, and it would be great to see you there. More information is HERE.

2. If you can’t attend the NYC fundraiser, please make an online donation of even just $5 or $10 before Thursday. You can do this using a credit card on the event’s Eventbrite page, which is HERE. Seriously, imagine: if every click on this blog post resulted in at least a $5 donation–that’s a lot of darn money. It just takes a little bit from each of us to make a huge difference.

3. Promote this blog post among your friends and social networks. Ask people you know to help in whatever small way they can. And if you’re one of those folks who ended up here–thank you. And please do something. Whatever you can.

4. If you have more resources, please consider taking on sponsorship of a child or donating in a more substantive way. Sponsors have dropped off, and you can see photos and listings of kids who need new sponsors HERE. Are you willing to make the difference so an Afghan child has the chance to grow up and lead in his or her community, city, and country?

Some Background:

Sports uniforms purchased by a Veterans for Afghanistan fundraiser for AFCECO

Sports uniforms purchased by a Veterans for Afghanistan fundraiser for AFCECO

AFCECO is a cause I genuinely care about because it is exactly the kind of investment in people that will give Afghanistan the bright future it deserves. Many of you have heard me say these phrases over the years: AFCECO is what hope looks like in Afghanistan. AFCECO is an Afghan solution to Afghanistan’s problems. If AFCECO ran schools across Afghanistan, the whole country would be completely transformed.

I wrote about some of AFCECO’s kids who played in an incredible orchestra program at Carnegie Hall last year. I’ve been a child sponsor since 2006, I’ve personally connected with Andeisha Farid, who founded AFCECO’s first home for refugee children in Pakistan in 2004, and I’ve also connected with other active sponsors of AFCECO kids. Back in 2009 I put together a series of fundraisers in Brooklyn for AFCECO that brought together groups of veterans (plus a few NGO workers) who’d served in Afghanistan to tell their stories as Veterans for Afghanistan.  This may be the best thing I’ve ever done.

As it turned out, NBC News took notice of the fundraisers we were doing that took cash donations for things like sports uniforms, firewood, and winter clothes for kids at AFCECO’s orphanages. And as it happened, this led to Brian Williams visiting the Mehan orphanage during his time in Kabul in November 2009. The television coverage resulted in a tremendous swell of support for AFCECO that changed so much for so many children. As for me, I ended up deploying twice more to Afghanistan pretty much right after that, so I stopped doing these public events. It seemed like everything was going well for AFCECO.

AFCECO kids thanking me (and everyone who participated in, donated, and supported the Veterans for Afghanistan fundraisers) for making this incredible connection that resulted in Brian Williams connecting with AFCECO in Kabul. Seriously, this pic gets me teary.

AFCECO kids thanking me (and everyone who participated in, donated, and supported the Veterans for Afghanistan fundraisers) for making this incredible connection that resulted in Brian Williams visiting AFCECO’s Mehan Orphanage in Kabul. Seriously, this pic gets me teary.

But in the last year or so, support for AFCECO has declined tremendously because Afghanistan simply hasn’t had the same currency in the news. This just doesn’t have to be the case, though. Afghans are doing the hard work on the ground–they just need our support to continue making this incredible and profound investment in their country’s future. All they need is just a bit of help from each of us.

All of this is to let you know that I can offer you my personal assurance that AFCECO is a well-managed, Afghan-led program that truly makes a difference for children and provides them with safety, support, and resources that simply aren’t available through other means right now in Afghanistan. These are the kids who will lead Afghanistan into the future. I’ve found plenty that makes me disappointed and hopeless at times about the struggle Afghanistan has been through, and the difficult future that lies ahead. But this is one sure thing that is working to change lives and contribute toward a positive, bright future.

If you have a few dollars today you can offer, please do so. If you have more dollars per month to invest in Afghanistan’s future, please consider offering that, too. Now is the time these kids really need us.

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