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Our Handmade Gifts Being Distributed in Afghanistan

2013 Distributions in Afghanistan

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In the first part of the year, Afghan NGO Aschiana distributed two large shipments of boxes of wool blankets and garments from the afghans for Afghans project. The total blankets, sweaters, vests, socks, mittens, and hats numbered 9,413. Part of this collection was originally intended for distribution by NGO Help the Afghan Children in the prior year. However, the Mennonite Central Committee, which traditionally handled overseas shipping of humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan for many years, stopped shipments because of war-time politics. The critical overland route from Pakistan to Afghanistan became too unreliable after Pakistan closed the road in response to U.S. drone strikes. Aschiana took over the transport via air and distribution of this collection, as well as the campaign arranged specifically for their beneficiaries, including orphans, street children, internally displaced people in camps, and students and women in their education programs.

A small -- and very special -- distribution of 385 wool hats, mittens, and socks was presented to youth studying and performing with the Afghan National Institute of Music while they were touring on the US East Coast, including the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. Music to our ears ... warmer ears, heads, hands, and feet for young Afghan musicians! The music students each selected a couple items for themselves to use here and at home and carried the rest of our wool gifts back to Afghanistan to share.

Founded by our Afghan-American friend Humaira Ghilzai in San Francisco, Afghan Friends Network presented us with a mid-winter opportunity to send wool hats, socks, and mittens for ages 14-21 years and some smaller children to Ghazni Province. 750 hats, 605 pairs of socks, and 485 pairs of mittens were delivered to students, some of whom walk miles in the snow to get to their lessons in math, science, literacy, and other subjects. In the photo gallery, we have excluded photos that might jeopardize the security of individuals and have guarded their privacy.

The final distribution of the year was conducted by NGO Trust in Education, a U.S.-based organization that builds schools, works in the refugee camps, and helps street children, among other humanitarian activities. Trust in Education was able to load 10 boxes, containing 1,553 garments, mostly hats, on to one of their plane loads for distribution to internally displaced people, those on the street, and other needly Afghans.

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These photos are protected by copyright law and may not be copied or otherwise used for any purpose.

2011 Distributions in Afghanistan

For many years, we have partnered with Church World Service (CWS) for transit and distribution of our wool blankets, sweaters, vests, socks, mittens, and hats to the the people of Afghanistan. CWS takes care of the least fortunate in a country where everyone is struggling. Just as the winter rain was turning to snow with the dropping temperature, they distributed more than 7,700 of our wool items to girls and boys directly in their care, as well as those served by other local social service agencies, including orphans, the disabled, and street kids, in the province of Kabul. CWS often conducts a dignified ceremony or celebration when the children receive their wool gifts. CWS said that the blankets and garments made the children feel that they are not alone and have friends on the other side of the world. We were informed that many parents feel powerless and stress because they cannot provide warm clothes for their children, and the parents appreciate the support. Please see this video clip of one of the distributions.

We were also fortunate to arrange delivery of socks to the girls at the Mirwais School in Kandahar, where, shockingly, students were burned by acid in 2008. We admire the girls' courage in pursuing their education and wanted to make sure that they had warm feet -- students can't concentrate with cold feet! The bright colors and fun designs of the socks provided good cheer. We are grateful to the heroic journalists who keep us informed about the conditions of war and the struggles of Afghans. Additionally, smaller distributions of wool socks and mittens went to participants in the Afghan Women's Writing Project, women activists, women and children in a long-term shelter, an orphanage, and organizations that serve amputees and landmine survivors.

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The final distribution of the year went to hospital patients in Kabul and Jowzjan and Sarepol provinces, and two small schools for returning refugees in the Paghman area. This was arranged by the Help the Afghan Children organization, founded by Afghan-American Suraya Sadeed. 976 hand-knit and crocheted wool blankets were given to sick children of all ages.

These photos are protected by copyright law and may not be copied or otherwise used for any purpose.

Wool Gifts Delivered December 2009 by Marianne O'Grady

In the middle of winter, we had the special, unexpected opportunity to stuff a duffle of our wool gifts for Marianne O'Grady to personally deliver to Afghanistan. Marianne is a teacher at the San Francisco Friends School and spent her winter break working on education projects to help Afghan teachers. Marianne started School is Open, her nonprofit through which she teaches Afghan teachers how to teach science to kids. She visits Afghanistan a couple times a year, with longer stays in the summer.

Marianne transported the duffle of 300 hats, socks, and mittens to a school outside of Jalalabad City that serves returning refugees. Jalalabad is a few hours east of Kabul. Girls attend classes in the morning and boys in the afternoon. The ten-room school house has bathrooms and a well. The refugee community is building up the area. They hope for more women teachers in the future. Marianne asked the kids what they wanted to be when they grow up, and both boys and girls said teacher, engineer, or doctor. Their principal distributed our wool gifts to the neediest of the children. Thank you, Marianne, for including us in your good work.

Packing with Alan of AFSC and San Francisco
Friends School Trustee, and Jo, Maggie, Christy,
and Chris.
The principal, who oversees a few
schools, and Marianne.
Flat Stanley keeps company with Marianne on her trips to Afghanistan.

Photos courtesy of Marianne O'Grady and may not be copied or otherwise used for any purpose.

Winter 2008-9 Distribution by Church World Service

In October 2008, we shipped 120 cartons -- containing 5,032 hand-knit and crocheted wool sweaters, vests, hats, socks, mittens, and blankets for girls and boys ages 7-14 -- to Church World Service in Kabul. After arriving by air, this collection proceeded through customs and inspections and was distributed in January 2009.

Church World Service distributed our gifts at six Kabul-based social agencies that serve the most disadvantaged from war and poverty -- orphans, disabled children, and kids living on the streets. These agencies provide a variety of services, such as food, shelter, health care, schooling, and vocational training.

Church World Service has supported the region since 1954 and works in partnership with Afghan public and private organizations. We are grateful to Church World Service for their dedication and commitment to helping the Afghan people survive and rebuild their lives.

Because of the generous action of our volunteers across the US and Canada, many Afghan girls and boys are warmer and more comfortable. Thank you for continuing to remember the Afghan people during war time. Let's hope for more stability and peace soon.

This campaign for Afghan youth was dedicated to the memory of three important friends whose compassion, generosity, and skills have been essential to the life of the afghans for Afghans project. We remember Gail McHugh (our Auntie Gail on KnitU), Maryanne Havryluck (of Airline Ambassadors), and Zainub Ashraf (on our founding web team), with great fondness.

In San Francisco, Emily and Ann sending off our wool

At the American Friends Service Committee, Pam,
Emily, and Ty finish the packing.

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Photos courtesy of Church World Service and may not be copied or otherwise used for any purpose.

2008-9 Distribution by Afghans 4 Tomorrow

Over the period of about a year, Afghans 4 Tomorrow distributed our hand-knit and crocheted wool blankets and garments to several populations in need. Afghans 4 Tomorrow is a U.S.-based non-profit organization with relief and development projects in Afghanistan. Our gift of blankets, sweaters, vests, mittens, socks, and hats ranged in sizes from baby to adults. The shipment was subject to typical, unavoidable delays with international, pro bono transit to a war zone and extra time with approvals at the customs office in Kabul. Afghans 4 Tomorrow's staff tenaciously pursued the bureaucracy and the release of cargo in late winter.

Some of the blankets and clothing were distributed immediately to returning refugees formerly living in Pakistan and Iran and resettling north of Kabul. Many of these families were desperate in late-winter snow. Displaced families living in Parwan also received items. At the same time, while driving around Kabul in the course of their work, Afghans 4 Tomorrow staff distributed wool gifts to some needy children exposed to harsh cold on the streets.

The bulk of the knitwear was stored for distribution the following winter -- December 2008 and January 2009 -- to the students at the three schools operated by Afghans 4 Tomorrow. Two of these schools are in Kabul and one in Wardak Province. The students range from 9-18 years of age. In addition to the academic curriculum, some children receive vocational training. Street kids and the disabled benefit from their earn-and-learn program making environmentally-improved briquettes for heating fuel.
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 Afghan-American Asma Eschen distributes blankets to
returning refugees in a new village north of Kabul.

In hard to reach and insecure Wardak Province, blankets and garments were delivered to patients receiving services at Afghans 4 Tomorrow's health clinic, the Abdullah Omar Health Post. Women visit the clinic for pre-natal and other health services that are too rare across Afghanistan. Some handknits were featured in new-mother kits filled with essentials to increase survival rates. Afghans have large families, and young children in their households also received wool gifts. Enjoy this short adorable video as the children try on their new clothes.

Our wool gifts were also shared with a maternity ward in Kabul and a small volume with the patients of Dr. Roshanak Wardak, who is a member of Parliament and OB-gyn doctor. Some of the poor neighbors around the organization's offices received wool clothing, too.

Read more about the Afghans 4 Tomorrow distribution, the lives of these children, and why your knitting and crocheting is meaningful -- in Knitch Magazine 2009 story "Amidst the Devastation Comes Hope for Little Girls".

Afghans 4 Tomorrow distributed our hand-knit and crocheted wool blankets and garments with the greatest of care and respect. Staff said these were "gifts of a lifetime for the kids. Most do not have money for food let alone nice sweaters. Please thank all the volunteers." We are most grateful to Afghans 4 Tomorrow, and especially to Board Member Marsha MacColl, for their commitment to education and rebuilding lives for Afghanistan's future.

Photos courtesy of Afghans 4 Tomorrow and may not be copied or otherwise used for any purpose.

2008-9 Distribution by Roots of Peace

In early 2008, afghans for Afghans gifted about 1,150 wool hats, socks, mittens, vests, and sweaters to Roots of Peace, the stellar humanitarian organization that transforms minefields into agricultural land. Our wool garments were for the girls and boys attending their schools in Mir Botcha Kot and Bamiyan. Some of the garments were hand-carried over in staff luggage on various trips.

The bulk of the collection was transported as part of the Roots of Peace 9/11 commemoration at their headquarters in San Rafael, California. The cartons traveled through the same Kabul DHL office where managers were tragically murdered in an attack in October 2008. We extend our condolences. afghans for Afghans and Roots of Peace operate as antidote to violence and hatred.

Later in 2008, we had a special opportunity to send more mittens through Roots of Peace and participate at their U.S. State Department event. Our mittens first travelled to Washington, DC, where Afghan Ambassador Said Jawad was honored for service to his homeland. Roots of Peace displayed our mittens for the dignitaries as a tangible example of how North Americans reach out in friendship and peace to the children of Afghanistan. Mittens for young hands that hopefully will never encounter the scourge of landmines. Roots of Peace subsequently transported 1,017 pairs of mittens to Kabul for winter wear.

Roots of Peace builds livelihoods and hope for the future -- planting grapevines and pomegranates and almond trees where mines once threatened public safety. CEO Heidi Kuhn said she was overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit of the knitters and crocheters. We wish Roots of Peace our very best as they pursue their vital mission helping the Afghan people repair their war-torn lands.

Photos courtesy of Roots of Peace and may not be copied or otherwise used for any purpose.

Winter 2007 Distribution by Church World Service

In October 2007, we shipped 81 cartons -- containing 6,344 hand-knit and crocheted wool sweaters, vests, hats, socks, mittens, and blankets for girls and boys ages 7-14 -- to the Afghan programs of Church World Service. At the time, this was our largest collection ever, and we didn't know if we could reach our goal. Knitters and crocheters stepped up -- half of the collection arrived two weeks prior to the due date! Volunteers packed in rotating shifts or worked marathon sessions. Our basement space (at the San Francisco office of the American Friends Service Committee) got cramped as the cartons piled up. This air shipment arrived in less than two weeks and proceeded through customs and inspections in time for winter and as snow conditions allowed for safe transit outside Kabul.

Church World Service partners with Afghan organizations in Kabul, Bamiyan (where the giant Buddhas were destroyed by Taliban in Summer 2001), and Markaz-e-Oslah-Tarbeet. Our blankets and garments were distributed at rehabilitation and health centers. These programs treat kids traumatized by years of war and poverty. Many have lost loved ones. The girls and boys benefit from physical recreation, lessons in health and hygiene, nutrition, and mine-safety, and social skills such as cooperation and peace-building. They have a chance to use books and try a computer. The teachers are friendly, and the learning is joyful. The Kabul distribution included a ceremony with cultural performances and television coverage for the community. Because so many are inadequately clothed, Church World Service distributed some of the wool garments to other organizations and orphanages, including Aschiana.

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Loading our wool gifts at American Friends Service Committee in San Francisco.
We were honored to supply Church World Service, and we value their indispensable work. Church World Service knows that the quality, beauty, and distinctiveness of our handmade wool blankets and garments are not available in any store! They know that each item is lovingly created by a North American as a special gift for an Afghan child. Top-quality garments that we would be proud to have own children and grandchildren wear. Church World Service did a superb job -- organized, timely, and respectful -- of distributing our wool gifts. We are grateful to Church World Service for their gentle and competent care in serving those who suffer the most during hard times.

Knitters and crocheters across the U.S. and Canada once again showed phenomenal effort -- with time, resources, and talent -- in reaching out to the Afghan people. Thank you for taking our kind of people-to-people action during war time. The girls and boys expressed their appreciation and warm wishes to you and all people around the world!

Photos courtesy of Church World Service and may not be copied or otherwise used for any purpose.

March 2007 Distribution by Marsha MacColl of Afghans 4 Tomorrow

In early 2007, knitters across the U.S. and Canada made 500 pairs of wool socks for students at the schools in Kabul operated by Afghans 4 Tomorrow. Thank you to the many volunteers who knit wonderfully distinctive, cheery, and warm first-class socks!

We sent a range of sizes to make sure all the kids (ages 7-18) received a pair that fit. In March of that year, Afghans 4 Tomorrow Vice President Marsha MacColl personally delivered our socks to the girls and boys as part of her humanitarian work to bring relief, education, and joy to children in Afghanistan.

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Ann says bon voyage to Marsha and Susan at San Francisco International airport.

Marsha distributed our gifts with tremendous personal attention and regard for both the students and the sock-knitters! She conveyed to the kids that the socks were made especially for them by Americans and Canadians who want to express their friendship and caring. The girls and boys were given the unusual experience of selecting what they wanted from the large array of socks. Marsha said that the kids loved choosing their own colorful socks.

Marsha creatively incorporated our socks in her English-language instruction. We also provided funds for snacks as part of a little celebration. Marsha shared larger socks with teachers and school staff, too. Socks offer a lot of value in a small garment. Many homes are poorly built and without a dependable heat source or any heat at all. Afghans 4 Tomorrow burns wood in their schools, but firewood is expensive. These kids needed wool socks -- often their feet are bare when they customarily remove their shoes in the classroom and at home.

Marsha is a devoted and energetic champion for the Afghan people. She appreciates our lovely handiwork and the generosity and skill of our many volunteers. We marvel at Marsha's compassion and leadership. Afghans 4 Tomorrow is a U.S.-based non-profit relief and development organization. We are most grateful to Marsha and Afghans 4 Tomorrow for their commitment to education and to rebuilding lives.

Photos courtesy of Marsha MacColl and may not be copied or otherwise used for any purpose.

Would you like to have a copy of one of these images from Afghanistan? Purchase our postcard featuring school girls receiving our wool socks!

2007 Distribution by Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children

In 2007, knitters and crocheters across the U.S. and Canada produced 700 wool hats for the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children. Each hat was made in one of the circus' organizational colors -- bright red, yellow, blue, and green.

A most unusual and innovative organization, the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus (MMCC) provides education programs and informative entertainment for Afghan girls and boys. Their performances and programs draw on the talents and potential of the children themselves. Hundreds of thousands of children and teachers in 16 provinces have benefited from performances, workshops, and teacher-trainings. MMCC activities integrate educational messages and lessons about health, landmine safety, and peace. They train teachers on using creativity in the curriculum. MMCC is making the arts, play, joy, and learning a part of the lives of the people of war-torn Afghanistan.

MMCC's Berit, David, and Sharon said that everyone loved receiving our gift of a great mound of wool hats -- the colors, the varied patterns, and knowing that so many individuals took their own personal time to stitch the hats just for their children. As the vacuumed-sealed bags were opened, the kids shouted with joy and enthusiasm -- trying the hats on, modeling the hats for each other, and more goofing around! They said they could not stop laughing -- there's something funny and fun about seeing so many hats! MMCC says thank you for the beautiful and cheerful presents for their girls and boys.

And, hats are good for more than you might imagine (video)! (A short video file will download when you click on the link.) We wish the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus all the best in keeping up the laughter, playing, and learning.

Photos courtesy of MMCC and may not be copied or otherwise used for any purpose.  

2006 Distribution by International Orphan Care

In 2006, International Orphan Care (IOC) delivered our hand-knit and crocheted blankets and garments to several regions in Afghanistan. We received wonderful photographs depicting the distributions to Afghan children, women, and men. Please keep in mind that photography has been much less common in Afghanistan. These photos are a real treat for us.

IOC partnered with several agencies to send our gifts far and wide -- from urban to rural areas. These photos show distributions to students at IOC's Jalalabad school, street children in Kabul, children in eastern Afghanistan, and families in villages in Big Pamir and Wakhan in the far north. No matter where, these recipients have few material possessions. A couple of the distributions occurred in remote areas that rarely receive relief missions and/or have limited winter access.

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Container loaded with our cartons arrives in Kabul.

Our handmade gifts also appeared in a Canadian news reel from Afghanistan! The woman in the video is IOC leader Fauzia Assifi, who personally presented our hand-knit and crocheted garments to children in the streets of Kabul. Fauzia is a hands-on woman! The items shown in the clip include our gifts, as well as donations from other sources.

Representing IOC, Fauzia expresses her gratitude to the generous volunteer knitters and crocheters and extends blessings to you all. Fauzia said that the recipients could see that each beautiful blanket or garment had been created with much time, care, and love. Fauzia reports that some of the women wanted to hang their new blankets on the walls because they are so lovely!

We extend our heartfelt appreciation to IOC for their vital work serving the people of Afghanistan. Pursuing programs in education, health care, vocational training, and humanitarian relief, IOC has worked in Afghanistan for more than a dozen years. We thank IOC for distributing our handmade gifts with much respect and kindness toward those in need.

Photos courtesy of IOC and may not be copied or otherwise used for any purpose.

2006 Distribution by Afghanistan Relief Organization

In 2006, Afghanistan Relief Organization (ARO) delivered our wool sweaters, hats, and socks to Kalafgan, in Takhar Province, a remote northeastern area that infrequently receives relief distributions. The location is mountainous and rugged. The truck drive from Kabul to Kalafgan is long and tiring.
   The residents' lives are difficult. This area has a poor provincial economy, with unpaved roads and limited electricity and other utilities. Food often costs more than in Kabul. Winter brings snow. ARO reports that recipients were very happy to receive our handmade garments.

We are grateful to ARO for taking our gifts to the people of Kalafgan. ARO is a U.S.-based nonprofit that has provided humanitarian and educational services in Afghanistan since 1998. Photos courtesy of ARO and may not be copied or otherwise used for any purpose.

Distribution From Summer 2003 Campaign for 5,000 Children

In Summer 2003, afghans for Afghans conducted a campaign to generate 5,000 wool hats, mittens, socks, and sweaters for children ages 1-5 years. Shipped overseas by World Concern, our gifts were distributed in December in time for the winter weather.

While we came close to the 5,000 mark for wool garments, we did not quite reach that number. The load was supplemented with additional blankets and other items. Our relief agency partner (an Afghan organization that works with Church World Service) distributed the garments in sets of 10 to each mother for her family -- 500 families in total. These families have many children of young ages. These families live in Mazar City, Alburz, Nehr-e-Shahi, and Khulam districts of the Balkh Province in the north. We depend on the relief agency for their expertise on how best to distribute our gifts. The plastic bags being handed to the mothers are filled with our knitted and crocheted gifts.

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Airline Ambassadors Delivers Our Gifts to Children in Kabul, December 2002

Airline Ambassadors is comprised of airline professionals who voluntarily travel on humanitarian missions worldwide. In December 2002, after the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, Maryanne Havryluck and Lorrie Moore delivered our hand-knit and crocheted gifts to children ages 8-15 years at a rehabilitation center in Kabul.

Our gifts arrived just in time for the freezing temperatures. The rehabilitation center had no heat. Airline Ambassadors' missions are distinguished by their personable touch -- Maryanne and Lorrie arranged a party and distributed our knitted and crocheted items, plus toys and other supplies, as part of the festivities. The facility is dismal, and the children are traumatized, yet smiles and laughter abounded, Maryanne reported. We are grateful to Maryanne and Lorrie for their compassionate work.

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The distributions described above were in addition to our other shipments of blankets and garments to displaced Afghan families since late 2001. We usually receive photos as part of the reports we receive on the distributions, although we don't always receive the kinds of photos that can be published publicly on our website. Some photos are for documentation purposes only.

Thank you to all the knitters and crocheters who have responded enthusiastically to our campaigns and the need in Afghanistan. Your beautiful handiwork is warming children, women, and men. Your handmade gifts send a strong message of caring and respect to the people of this devastated country that's striving to rebuild.

Our Partner, American Friends Service Committee

With all our shipments, the American Friends Service Committee in San Francisco generously provides in-take on mail, storage services, and coordination assistance.

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