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Kennebec Journal

Friday, April 11, 2003

Students help fund schools in Afghanistan
'Bluepack Project' resonates with Afghans in Augusta

Copyright 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


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How to help


AUGUSTA Ferozan Hassanzada was denied the opportunity to go to school as a young girl while the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan.


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How to help

Donors wishing to contribute to the BluePack Project may send checks made out to Cony High School to the school address at 16 Cony St., Augusta, Maine 04330, with a note that the money is for the BluePack Project, which will provide school supplies for children in Afghanistan.

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She had her first taste of a classroom when her family fled their native land for neighboring Pakistan. There, for a couple of hours a day, Hassanzada learned to read and write in several languages.

Now, after being in Augusta for 18 months, she is helping to raise money to buy school supplies to permit girls and boys in Afghanistan to go to school.

She and a half dozen other students in the English as a Second Language Program at Cony High School are spearheading the drive to fund backpacks filled with school supplies and other items needed by children half a world away.

Nancy Kelly, who teaches English as a Second Language at Cony, said the group has signed on with the BluePack Project, a national effort of the Academy for Educational Development. So far the Augusta students have raised $500 by taking collections every Wednesday and Thursday in classrooms.

They now want to expand the effort to the whole community.

Their goal is to raise $1,000 by June 1, Kelly said.

Hassanzada, who speaks Pashtu, Farsi, Urdu, and Punjabi, as well as English, said Afghani students must bring their own writing supplies to school, an impossibility for friends of hers whose parents have died. There are children who now sleep on the street.

"Some people help them like we do," she said. "They're poor."

"It's a fabulous service project because it touched her personally," said Kelly.

Kelly said students in her class saw it as a way of making others aware of the misfortunes facing students elsewhere. "They don't understand what happened in Afghanistan," she said. "There have been fabulous donations and homeroom teachers who go out of their way to explain this is how you can help children in a war-ravaged country."

Johny Assaf, a sophomore whose family is from the Middle Eastern country of Lebanon, helps collect donations. "I want to help her and I feel bad for her country," he said.

Hassanzada's family fled Afghanistan and went to Pakistan for five years before coming to Augusta.

Her parents, Razq and Laila Hassanzada, both work at Wal-Mart in Augusta.

Her sisters, Farbanza and Farkhunda, both attend Farrington Elementary School, and her brother, Mustfa, goes to Hodgkins Middle School.

Kelly said Ferozan Hassanzada has made huge strides in learning English over the past 18 months. And recently her school records arrived from Pakistan, so she has enough credits to graduate from Cony this year.

Hassanzada hopes to go to the University of Maine at Augusta and possibly have a career as a journalist in the United States.

She remains in touch with family and friends in Kabul through phone calls and the Internet.

"It's really important for them to go to school," she said.

An uncle and his six children arrived in Portland several nights ago after spending a year in Pakistan. They are unsure about whether they will stay in Portland with other relatives or move to Augusta, Hassanzada said.

In keeping with her native land's traditions, Hassanzada has a fiance she has yet to meet in person, although she has talked to him and seen photos of him. Moshin Laitf, 22, lives in London. The marriage was arranged by their parents.

First Lady Laura Bush endorsed the BluePack Project a year ago in remarks at the United Nations.

According to information posted on the Web site, more than $800,000 was raised over the past year, enabling the agency to distribute 30,000 packs.

The packs are assembled by women widowed during the Afghan war. They in turn spend their earnings on food and blankets for their own children, according to the Web site.

Items supplied to schools in Jalalabad and Kunar as well as other districts include pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, rulers, writing tablets, chalk, chalkboards, ink, traditional bamboo pens and wooden writing boards. The blue packs also contain soap, brushes, combs and a few toys.

The organization leading the effort estimates that more than 10 million children in Afghanistan suffer from effects of multiple catastrophes.

The American Red Cross and UNICEF estimate that one out of every three Afghan children is an orphan and that in some areas, there has been no school offered for more than 10 years.

Funds from the donations also support teacher training and other long-term education initiatives.

Waterville Senior High School students recently raised $1,000 for the project and other area schools are doing similar projects.

Betty Adams 621-5631

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Copyright Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.