Chairman's Wife Gets Firsthand Look at Afghan Hospital, Orphanage
By Sgt. Stephanie Hall, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Jul. 31, 2003 While her husband addressed military affairs, Mary Jo Myers toured various places around Afghanistan July 30 to get a feel for the shape the country and its people are in.
Myers, wife of Joint Chiefs chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, visited Afghanistan along with her husband, who met with Combined Joint Task Force 180 leaders and other officials as part a six-day trip to the Middle East and Central Asia. She toured the U.S. hospital at Bagram; Gardez, an outpost in northern Afghanistan; and Kabul, where she visited a women's hospital and an orphanage.
It was the daily life at the hospital and orphanage in Kabul that drew a picture of Afghanistan's need for rebuilding.
Rabia Balkhi, of the women's hospital, impressed on Myers the need for humanity, she said. At the hospital compound's entrance, dozens of Afghan women and young girls awaited entrance for medical treatment. In the hospital itself, a handful of doctors and nurses struggled to keep up with the demands of injuries, sicknesses and pregnancies.
"There are about 120 babies born at the hospital every day, and about 120 beds allotted for the entire maternity ward," said Habiba Sarabi, Afghanistan's minister of women's affairs, through an interpreter. That means that the babies have to be moved out the day they are born in order to make room for incoming pregnancies.
The quiet corridors of the hospital disguised the fact that each room was filled beyond any hope of patient privacy.
The hospital itself "is what one would expect of a third-world country," said Myers. "It's just that we get a totally different mind set from anything we've seen before, so you have to be very touched and impressed by the staff there that seem very capable, and well educated, and trying to the best they can with all so little."
At the hospital, Myers presented a donation of basic medical supplies, including syringes, rubber gloves and bandages from MediSend. That organization recycles medical supplies from wealthy countries to supply people in countries like Afghanistan, said Myers. According to its Web site, MediSend, based in Dallas, has sent more than 400 shipments of medical supplies valued at more than $10 million to hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities in 66 countries.
After the hospital, Myers toured the Alla Uddin Orphanage. Children from ages 4 to 14 lined up to greet Myers when she arrived. As she walked up to the entrance of the hospital, two young Afghan girls showered her with sunflower petals. Myers then toured the orphanage that serves as a school as well. She walked the hallways of the dorm and in one bunk in a bed-filled room, a young Afghan boy pleaded in Dari, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan. "Please help us, please help us, please help us," he said.
Through a translator, Myers responded, "You have a lot of people here who care for you and a lot of people in the U.S. who want to help, so don't you worry."
"(Myers) is the goodwill ambassador for her husband," said Mary E. Turner, the civilian executive assistant to Gen. Myers. "People are drawn to her, they want to tell her their problems, and she wants to help."
Myers said the Afghanistan trip will remain with her, and she hopes to keep some sort of journal of her visit. "I want to retain some of these memories that are so poignant, so touching, and to be able to share them with friends and family," she said. "I'm also asked to speak from time to time, and so they may become a part of a speech I'm making to a women's conference."
For Myers, "these stories are just too incredible -- too wonderful not to share."
(Sgt. Stephanie Hall is assigned to the 4th Public Affairs Detachment in Afghanistan.)