Sunday, November 8, 2009

Small Heaven Orphanage visit

Yesterday Rauf, Meena (both SOLA students) and I headed off to visit the Small Heaven Orphanage in the nearby Karte Char neighborhood. This orphanage received songbooks about a year and a half ago. In fact, a photo of children from this same orphanage is in the introduction section of the English version of the songbook.

This is a government-run orphanage so by definition lacks funds and is run on a shoestring. We were greeted by the Director of the Orphanage , Nazita who took us upstairs to meet the children. As we climbed the stairs of a very stark, concrete building, I could hear the children exuberantly singing the Alphabet Song. We entered the room and there were about 20 children, ages 5-12, sitting on the floor, each with a songbook, happily singing away with the cassette tape.

I sat down on the floor and joined them and quickly realized they knew every song and many of them were taking their finger and reading the lyrics. This gave me great pleasure since I’ve been hoping that the children would be able to use the songbooks as a basic reader and indeed it seems they are.

I purposely chose a site to visit where the children already had the songbooks for awhile because I felt it was important to find out just how the songbooks were being put to use, if at all, after so long. We sat on the floor and I listened to them go through song after song, enjoying each one. I asked them which ones they liked best and which they could sing all by themselves, without the cassette to accompany them. It was great fun to hear from them and many volunteered to get up and sing by themselves! We have some delightful video.

The American woman who teaches ASL at SOLA had given us a big box of hats, mitts and gloves that someone had sent her so we ended our visit by passing those out, each child wrapping themselves up. As you can see by the photo, it looks like they are expecting a veritable blizzard any minute!

As we left, Nazita thanked us profusely. She also mentioned that the government had told her that there wasn’t enough for wood so there would be no heat for the winter. She said she’d have to shut down the orphanage for 3 months and send the children away. I’m not quite sure where they go – perhaps to a relative or perhaps on the street. (Sometimes the children in the orphanage are there because the mother or father have died and the extended family can’t take care of them.)

In any case, on the way home I asked Rauf how much it would cost to buy wood for 3 months ($200) and I told him I’d take care of it. He nodded in approval. We will deliver the wood in a few days along with some crayons and other school supplies I brought with me. We also bought 3 soccer balls today. There didn’t seem to be any toys around at all and given how much fun the kids here have had playing ball, it seemed like a good idea. Those children gave me a great deal of joy yesterday. Giving them some warmth in the winter seemed like a small gift in return.

Big news! I just heard that Vaheed (the musician I worked with on the songbook project) is coming to Kabul on Nov. 17th. This is great news for me. He works closely with the Aga Khan Cultural Trust. I met with their CEO last Thursday and he seems very interested in helping fund a 2nd songbook. Aga Khan’s focus is cultural preservation so it's a good match,not to mention they are great admirers of Vaheed's work. I count my lucky stars daily that he is part of the project. I contacted Aga Khan initially six years ago but nothing panned out. Now it seems the timing is much better. The project is well-established and they are very impressed with the fact that the books are now completely produced in Kabul. Vaheed has already collected other traditional songs from several ethnic groups so creating a 2nd songbook should not be too complicated. We can record the songs this time in Kabul. I’m hoping to squeeze in one or two planning meetings with them before I head home.

I’m still hoping to be able to begin the process of printing the next 5000 songbooks before I leave. We’re close to meeting our goal. I suggest this with some trepidation BUT….if any of you feel so inclined to support this next printing OR know others who might, I’d be most grateful. Any donation goes a long way. It's easy Just go on the songbook website –
That’s the easiest way to donate. AND if you have any ideas of other funding sources or fundraising ideas, I’m delighted to receive that information too. That would be GREAT! Each songbook costs $5.00/ea which includes the entire package – songbook, CD, cassette tape and packaging and some minimal distribution costs. The cost of supplying the 30 songbooks to a place like the Small Heaven Orphange is $150.00. Not a lot in our lives but A LOT in theirs. It makes a huge difference in their lives.

Thanks again for your interest and support for this project and this blog! It’s been great fun writing up the posts and I've appreciated your comments and questions. It’s hard for me to believe how the time has flown by here. Each day has provided new insights for me and I continue to be inspired and moved by the Afghan people.

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