Spirit of America's Blog
A Simple Gesture, A Big Impact
There are many reasons to bring someone a gift in Afghanistan. When greeting long-missed friends, at the outset of business transactions, even amongst enemies gifts are an essential precursor to any successful social interaction here. Outsiders have often described with awe and appreciation the generosity and patience symbolized in this ancient Afghan ritual. It could be said the hospitality of the Afghan people is the nation's greatest and most bountiful resource.
Boys from Maiwand District show their appreciation for the new uniforms. The Afghan national soccer team recently won the South Asia Football Federation Championship last September
Our CEO and founder, Jim Hake, actually first came up with the idea of Spirit of America after hearing how a simple act of charity could produce a very tangible effect: when a US Army Special Forces unit rallied their families to donate baseball equipment to a remote Afghan community, the resulting tight-knit relationship ultimately improved security for both parties. (Hear Jim tell this story and more here.) As Operation Enduring Freedom developed over the years, the power of such a seemingly nondescript custom was realized and it's practice institutionalized. The Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) is one of several initiatives enabling US forces with the ability to achieve results similar to the story that inspired Jim back in 2003. US troops often use CERP to purchase HA (Humanitarian Assistance) items, which are then distributed throughout rural communities for the purpose of spreading goodwill and demonstrating the value of a capable national government. Things like blankets, jackets, boots, and food items are a great way to open the door to building trust in areas far removed from Afghanistan's official power-centers, and one of Spirit of America's many functions is to complement these official efforts with our own brand of humanitarian and economic support.
Helping Syrian Refugees Who Need it Most
Over the past few months, Spirit of America has been working with a US Army team focused on helping the Syrian refugee population in Jordan. Syrians fleeing catastrophic violence in their homeland have flooded into neighboring countries, with more than a half million crossing the border into Jordan alone. With nowhere to go, many of these refugees are living in large camps until the civil war ends.
The largest of these camps is Za'atari, which with around 100,000 inhabitants, now ranks as the largest refugee camp in the Middle East. There has been a massive international push to provide for the Syrians forced to relocate to these facilities, but the Army team identified one group of extremely vulnerable refugees that have fallen through the cracks when it came to receiving aid: the disabled population. Disabled people – primarily children and the elderly – compose some 10 percent of the camp's population, but they do not have access to basic necessities.
Disabled people make up an extremely vulnerable, and underserved, portion of the refugee population
Working to Bring Stability to Key Regions
Increasing capabilities of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) and Afghan National Army was the task given to the US military in a key area of Eastern Afghanistan, but equipment deficiencies were hindering the Afghans' ability to perform at their highest level. One of the soldiers at the base had worked with Spirit of America before and knew he could reach out to us for help.
ANSF training on the new radios provided by Spirit of America
Army Captain “a profound sense of accomplishment”
An Army Captain in Afghanistan, Jo Smoke, wrote a great story, "Spirit of America in Afghanistan: Helping US troops create something out of nothing."
My favorite part is when Captain Smoke writes, "Those who worked with SoA anticipate returning home with a profound sense of accomplishment at having helped hundreds of local citizens, government officials and more than 2,000 female students."
The story highlights examples of Spirit of America support of our Soldiers and Afghans and the work of SoA Field Rep Mike Harte. Mike is a Marine veteran who served one tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan before joining the Spirit of America team in June 2013. Mike is in the photo below after being awarded the Army Civilian Award for Public Service because of his work with Spirit of America. We're very proud of him.
Special Operations Soldiers and Local Police Securing Parwan Province
It was late when the helicopter lifted off Bagram's flight line, heading north in the direction of the remote base I was going to. Flying in the middle of the night, every light stood out. The glow of larger towns and cities could be seen along the major roads as we flew over the desert. Gaining elevation to make it over the mountains, I could still see small clusters of homes tucked away in the valleys and along the sparsely populated ridgelines. As we climbed higher into the mountains, reaching our destination, there was a crispness in the air coming through the gunner's door, indicating a substantial drop in temperature.
Parwan is located in Eastern Afghanistan. It is bordered by Kabul Province to the south and Kapisa to the west. Its strategic location, sandwiched between a known insurgent staging area and the home of the National Government, provides a security buffer, hindering insurgent movement from Pakistan into Kabul. Parwan has excellent potential for economic growth due to its proximity and good infrastructure links to Kabul, as long as security is maintained.
Wheelchairs, Radio and Better Lives
This week, we'd like to share two new projects from opposite sides of the globe. While these initiatives may be far apart geographically, they have two key things in common: they're in direct response to what America's deployed troops have told us is needed, and they're helping locals create a better future for their vulnerable communities. Please join us in supporting these efforts.
Spreading the word: a US Army team helps Afghan leaders talk to their communities
Secure a Brighter Future for Students with Solar Power
Along the Pakistan border, insurgency, tribal conflict, drug smuggling and other negative influences constantly affect the people, especially the children, living in Nangarhar Province's most vulnerable districts.
Village elders and locals realized that to provide a better future for their children, it had to start with education. The problem is that many of the schools in the region are disconnected from the oversight and financial support provided by the local and national governments.
An Army Civil Affairs team operating in Nangarhar Province met with school officials. The teachers expressed concerns that the school's unreliable power source made it almost impossible to use the computers in the classrooms. As they discussed options for replacing the aging generator, it was agreed that solar panels were the best solution. The Civil Affairs team, on behalf of the school, reached out to Spirit of America to help fund the project.
While helping with installation, children learn about collecting energy from the sun and how the energy can be used to power the computers in their classroom
Pakul Hats Strengthen Bonds and Improve Security
Afghan Local Police in Logar Province are a critical component to the security of Eastern Afghanistan. By securing checkpoints and maintaining a presence in vulnerable areas, the ALP are denying insurgent influence over the local population. They willingly combat adverse weather conditions without complaint. The Logar ALP Commander and unit often provide support to U.S. and other Coalition Forces as well as Afghan National Security Forces throughout the province.
Like many units throughout the districts, many of the local police are without complete uniforms. With the winter in full force, many ALP are supplementing their outfits with various clothing items from home. This makes it difficult for Coalition Forces to easily identify them from a distance. In stressful situations, when split second decisions need to be made, being unable to distinguish between "friend or foe" could lead to catastrophic situations.
Logar Chief of Police, Provincial and National level officials help distribute Pakul hats to the Afghan Local Police