Americans Donate Shoes, Clothes to Aid Afghan Village
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Tammie Moore
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Dec. 12, 2008 A need for a pair of shoes provided the catalyst for a donation that benefited an entire Afghan village.
Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Thomas Knolmayer helps an Afghan girl try on donated shoes at a humanitarian assistance visit to the Afghan Department of Refugees and Repatriation village. The doctor spearheaded efforts to bring clothes, shoes, coats and blankets to the refugee camp. U.S. Air Force photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Earlier this month, a handful of volunteers and the Kapisa and Parwan Provincial Reconstruction Team delivered hundreds of pairs of recycled shoes, clothing and radios to about 250 families at the Afghan Department of Refugees and Repatriation village.
The humanitarian effort began when Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Tom Knolmayer, general surgeon for the Craig Joint Theater Hospital here, was operating on a boy who had been shot in the abdomen in crossfire. The doctor noticed the boy’s callused, mud-caked feet.
"I was thinking about the fact that we were going to have to send him home with bare feet," said the colonel, who is deployed here from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. "His feet were covered in calluses that did not appear to be just formed, but formed over years. I felt sorry for him, so I e-mailed my wife and asked her to send a pair of my son's old hiking boots."
The request for a pair of shoes grew into something more. Knolmayer's wife contacted her friends and asked them to do the same. Before long, the donations came rolling in. The colonel worked with the Kapisa and Parwan PRT to coordinate a delivery of the shoes to people who needed them the most.
"He had quite a big collection, and we found an appropriate place to deliver them," Air Force Chief Master Sgt. John Zincone, Kapisa and Parwan PRT information officer, said.
The PRT contacted provincial officials, who directed them to the Department of Refugees and Repatriation. With the department’s help, the team established a humanitarian assistance drop to aid the families.
"I really appreciate this; our people were running out of humanitarian aid, and they did not have anything for the winter," Ali Hahm, a village elder, said. "I really thank, from the bottom of my heart, the coalition forces who provided this stuff for the poor people here in this village."
The relationship that formed between the PRT and DORR through the humanitarian aid drop is one both parties hope to continue, Hahm said.
"We are looking forward to having the same help, the same support," he said. "We have a lot of poor, needy people here."
The humanitarian aid drop is the first the Kapisa and Parwan PRT had coordinated with the village.
"They kind of ran the show," Zincone, deployed from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., said. "We showed up with all of the goods, but they had a system in place; they had gone out ahead of time and identified all of the families. They called them out and came into the compound area one or two families at a time. Outside, a large group gathered, but the Afghan National Police was there [to keep order]."
The highly organized event allowed for each family's needs to be specifically met.
"It was a great experience; I loved being able to be a part of it," Knolmayer said. "What is enjoyable for me is being able to hand out these things and watch their faces light up because they are in dire need of it; that is something we don't see very often. It is a very rewarding thing to be able to give like that."
Knolmayer said the trip will stand out in his mind for a long time.
"It was fun to be a part of this event, but the larger concept of it is overwhelming and heartwarming," he said. "It is simple families back home who will never see villages in Afghanistan. They care enough to empty out their closets, and ship a box of shoes and clothes over here to these children."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Tammie Moore serves with the U.S. Air Forces Central news team.)