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US Prepares to Send School Supplies to Afghan Children - 2002-05-31

Among the chief victims of the Taliban regime were children and their access to education. Now some Afghan children without school supplies are getting what they need. The U.S. Department of Defense and a non-profit group are preparing to move more than five metric tons of aid to Afghanistan.

U.S. Department of Defense humanitarian assistance workers watched over the inspection of 150 boxes headed for the recovering country.

Through a program that allows the Defense Department to transport privately donated humanitarian aid, Afghan school children will soon receive about five-and-a-half metric tons of school supplies.

Defense Department spokeswoman Judith McCallum says this will be the first cooperative effort of this type for Afghanistan. "A lot of this stuff here is very basic stuff pencils, paper, crayons, erasers, coloring books, I mean very, very basic things, but they don't have them. They just don't have them. So I think it will mean a lot. I think it's a great re-supply effort," she says. "We do stuff like this around the globe and it's a wonderful partnership between private citizens, non-profit organizations and the Department of Defense."

The Defense Department makes space available on its cargo planes for private organizations to deliver aid around the world.

In this case, the group Chances for Children is sending the goods. Director Kenneth Merlo says this particular effort stemmed from people seeing his organization's founder, the Duchess of York, on television a few months ago. "This program came about directly because the Duchess of York was on Larry King and talked about the work we do and about children in Afghanistan and what they can use," he says. "And then these children of Montreal, and then some of the states, on their initiative, collected school supplies. It's the first of what we hope will be many humanitarian airlifts to places like Afghanistan."

The children drew pictures on the transport boxes and wrote slogans such as "turn the page."

Defense Department Representative Michael Ritchie says this aid is proof the people of the United States are looking past their pain. "What makes this one [shipment] particularly meaningful is that it shows the outpouring of the giving of the American nation and there are no hard feelings to the people and particularly the children of Afghanistan," he says.

Kenneth Merlo from Chances for Children says he hopes the goods will be transported to the U.S. Bagram Air base near Kabul in within the next two weeks.