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Pens to Afghanistan
Jamais Cascio, 12 May 04

It's easy to forget how important the simple things can be. Terry Welch, who used to run the Nitpicker blog, now works in Afghanistsan. He sent a message to supporters and friends, which is now being spread throughout the blogosphere:

All,

As many of you know, I am currently in the apolitical position of Army public affairs specialist in Afghanistan. I only recently arrived, after waiting for 2.5 months at Ft. Riley, Kansas, but that's another issue. I'm writing you all today because I'm going to take many of you up on your offers and rudely ask a favor of those who made no offer.

When I first mentioned on my blog, Nitpicker, that I was going to be deployed, a large number of you asked how you could help me, what I would need for Afghanistan. The truth is, there's not much. However, I just went on my first mission with a civil affairs group and found a way you might be able to help me out.

It seems that the children of Afghanistan want nothing more than they want a pen.

It was explained to me that the villages through which I traveled (near Kandahar, where I'm based) are so poor that a pen is like a scholarship to these children. They desperately want to learn but, without a pen, they simply won't. It's a long story. I won't bore you with it. Trust me, though, when I say that it would be a big deal if even a few of you could put up the call for pens for me. Anyone interested in helping out could either send some directly to me or go to these sites and send them, where you can find them for as cheap as $.89 a dozen.

You can send them to me at this address:

Terry L. Welch
105th MPAD
Kandahar Public Affairs Office
APO AE 09355

Seems like a good cause to me.

(Via Atrios)

Stefan Jones notes, in the comments:

Found in another Blog comment thread:

'This reminds me of the BluePack project the Academy for Educational Development (AED) ran a while back:

http://www.bluepack.org/

They solicited $10 contributions, each of which purchased a pack for an Afghan child which "contains basic education supplies (pens, pencils, colored pencils, eraser, sharpener, six paper notebooks, ruler, chalk, chalkboard and a coloring book). The pack also contains a thermos so children can bring clean water from home."'

This is something I could feel a bit less cynical about.

For one thing, they had a footprint and a plan for distribution. This Terry . . . really, if the level of support is as big as it seems, his entire platoon is going to need weeks to offload all those donations.

Another (from the FAQ):
"The BluePacks and the school supplies are being produced in the region, and plans call for them to be assembled by Afghan war widows in order to provide employment opportunities."

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Comments

I hate to be cynical, but . . .

The demand for pens may be a beggar's trick, like asking for a can of baby milk "for my sick little sister." The milk gets sold back to the merchant; the kid gets pocket money.

Pens are an easily transported, easily traded commodity item.

Just to be different, I'd send them notebooks.


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 12 May 04

That's the nice aspect of inundating Kandahar with pens, then -- the gray market for the item would be undercut, so the only real demand for the pens would be from people who actually need them.

Besides, I have to pick one day a week not to be cynical, so it may as well be today.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 12 May 04

Ah yes, the lucrative Afghanistani pen smuggling trade. I hear opium farmers are giving up in droves and switching to the more lucrative black market in illicit pens.

If someone is asking for pens, or baby milk for that matter, it sounds like they need that money way more than you. :-P

There is also a possibility which we should not rule out too hastily -- call me a meta-cynic -- that there is a real need for pens (but no lack of paper) just as they say.


Posted by: Paul Harrison on 12 May 04

Found in another Blog comment thread:

'This reminds me of the BluePack project the Academy for Educational Development (AED) ran a while back:

http://www.bluepack.org/

They solicited $10 contributions, each of which purchased a pack for an Afghan child which "contains basic education supplies (pens, pencils, colored pencils, eraser, sharpener, six paper notebooks, ruler, chalk, chalkboard and a coloring book). The pack also contains a thermos so children can bring clean water from home."'

This is something I could feel a bit less cynical about.

For one thing, they had a footprint and a plan for distribution. This Terry . . . really, if the level of support is as big as it seems, his entire platoon is going to need weeks to offload all those donations.

Another (from the FAQ):
"The BluePacks and the school supplies are being produced in the region, and plans call for them to be assembled by Afghan war widows in order to provide employment opportunities."


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 12 May 04



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