By Army Spc. Micah E. Clare
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan, July 10, 2007 -
Best-selling books have painted pictures of Afghan children flying colorful kites high in blue skies against backdrops of snow-capped mountains that tower over quaint villages, but not all Afghan children are fortunate enough to own such simple, yet wonderful toys.
However, when the Polish Battle Group arrived in Ghazni province's Andar district near the end of June, the local children were finally able to take part in an activity shared by children in almost all countries in the world: flying kites.
While conducting patrols throughout Andar district during Operation Maiwand last month, the Polish soldiers of 1st and 2nd platoons of the Polish Battle Group's Company B made many humanitarian aid deliveries to the poor families living in the area.
The extreme poverty of some of the areas was quite a shock to many of the Polish soldiers.
"It seems like time stopped here 2,000 years ago," said Polish Pfc. Chris Demko, a gunner on one of the giant Rosomak armored personnel carriers. "We see these kids running around with nothing, not even shoes, and we want to change that."
Everywhere they went, children crowded around the vehicles as the smiling soldiers pulled out boxes of shoes, clothes, school supplies and toys. But the biggest hit of all were the multi-colored kites that the soldiers unfolded for them.
With big grins and excited chattering, the children jumped up and down shouting, "Patang! Patang!" -- the Pashto word for kite. Soon, several of the yellow, green and red kites with International Security Assistance Force logos were flying high overhead, much to the delight of the children dancing around below.
"These kites are so much fun," said Mahmad-Amid Hahn, a 12-year- old boy, as he made whooping sounds while his kite dipped and swerved in the air. "The Taliban would never give us these things."
For the children who had never seen a kite before, some of the Polish soldiers stepped in to assist, unfolding the kites and showing them how to take off with a running start to get them airborne.
"Any time spent with children is a good thing," said Polish Pfc. Michal Ozog-Warclaw. "It is wonderful to see children who have been through so much with smiles on their faces."
Ozog-Warclaw has a daughter of his own back home in Poland, and this experience made him think of her. "I spent many days playing with her just like this in the park, or forest," he recalled.
While the children enjoyed their kites and new shoes, the Polish soldiers also gave out school supplies as an encouragement for the children not only to play, but also to learn and attend nearby schools.
The soldiers said they hope their presence and influence in these areas will be able to help change an environment where the Taliban threatened parents with violence if they sent their children to school.
"It is sad, because most children here have not had the same opportunities that my own daughter does," Ozog-Warclaw said. "It is not their fault, either. Back in Poland, my daughter is developing in school in a safe, loving community where she is free to learn, play and interact. Every person should have access to these things, because being educated is a weapon against people who would tell you to be something you are not."
Though the youngsters face many challenges as they grow older in their still unstable country, the pristine scene of children flying kites, completely free to enjoy their youth, still feels as if it could come out of the pages of a book.
"We're simply helping them make their lives better," said Polish Maj. Thomas Stachera, Company B commander, while watching the children playing as his men prepared to move on.
"I believe this to be a picture of what these people really want: a stable, peaceful, productive society," he said. "These children are the ones who will be able to make it happen."
(Army Spc. Micah E. Clare is assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)