Pens take a trick with children in Afghanistan

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LAST December Captain Lisa Irwin, a Territorial Army Officer, joined with the “Brechin Advertiser” to organise an appeal for pens for the children of Afghanistan.

It was an initiative that proved to be a great success within the local community.

Lisa, from Edzell, who has just returned from Afghanistan after serving as a Female Engagement Team Commander for six months, spoke to the “Brechiner” about the impact the appeal had on the children in Afghanistan, thanks to the huge generosity of the readers of the “Brechin Advertiser”.

Lisa said: “I received two huge mail bags full of pens and I know that more pens are on their way.

“Another two mail bags were sent about a month before I came home but they have still not arrived. However, the girls that are replacing me will get them.

“When we dished out the pens we had hoped to go to the school and hand then out there but the school was closed that day.

“It is not easy to just walk out on the street or jump in the car because you need to have the whole patrol to come out with you for security.

“However, we deciced to distribute the opens on the street.

“Afghan kids, because they do not know about queuing, do not have many manners and do not have any belongings, were desperate to grab anything, so they were just crowding round me trying to grab anything they could get.

“I was not even managing to get the pens out of the envelopes before the children were trying to put their hands in.

“The Afghan National Police came and gave me a hand. My Pashto (the language used in Afghanistan) was not good, so the police were better at communicating to the children and it make handing out the pens a lot easier.”

Lisa went on to explain that word of mouth works very well in Afghanistan.

“Once word of mouth got round and the children knew that I had pens to hand out the whole town, about 60-70 kids, turned up.

“It was a real shame for one little child, aged about three, who came along at the end and asked for a kalam (pen) when I had none left.

“When the next package gets delivered the girls who took over from me in Afghanistan will be taking them to a school in the northern part of Nad Ali South.

“There, they have a school which is thriving but they do not have enough books and pens.

“The Afghan government should supply the school with these materials but they can be slow at doing so.

“I said that children, and adults, in Scotland had pens that they had donated which the school would be able to get.

“When I was at the school I had six packets of felt tip and Biro pens which I was able to give the teacher at the time.

“He explained that because he had been given some pens it meant that more children would now have the opportunity to read and write, giving them opportunities they may otherwise not have had.

“For children who are going to school the pens can make a huge difference.

“A lot of the children who were taking pens from me do not know how to read or write because not everywhere has schools.

“But it means that they now have something to play with because they do not have toys.

“The children will mount a bottle top on a stick and play with that, or will make a catapult with a stick and elastic band, very much like a toy a child in the Victorian times may have played with.

“One of the boys who got the pens ended up drawing a pink moustache on himself, while a lot of them draw on their hands as they do not have access to paper.

“They were excited by having the pens and some of them would ask me to write my name or their name on their hands. I also had the chance to teach a boy how to write his name on a bit of paper.

“It just gives them an opportunity that they did not have before.”

Lisa went on to say there has never been an appeal like this before.

“Previously some boys from the Army had given out pens which is why the children knew what they were, but to get so many of them so freely was new to the children- all thanks to the people in Brechin.

“We do have to be careful when we are handing them out.

“We try to keep handing them out in an organised way such as giving it to a teacher, school or meeting, rather than distributing them on each patrol because we do not want the children following the patrols all the time.

“It could put them in danger and it makes it difficult for us to do our job.

“When they see us on patrol children, even as young as 18 months, will run after us shouting kalam, kalam, hoping that we will have pens.

“For the children it is like Christmas.”

Lisa has now been replaced by three navy girls who will carry on the work that she has achieved so far.

She will now start training, before returning to Afghanistan as a cultural advisor.

When she returns she will have undergone a number of training courses including 18 months in Buckinghamshire, where she will undergo 15 months of language training as well as three months cultural training, starting in September.