New shoes help needy Afghans walk tall
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, March 20 (UNHCR) - The students at the Islamabad International School have no problem imagining themselves in someone else's shoes. In fact, they are so good at it, they've put other people in their shoes.
Inspired by a book about the plight of Afghan refugee children, these students have donated shoes and socks to hundreds of needy Afghans in north-western Pakistan.
"It all started when Khadra Mohammed, the executive director of the Pittsburgh Refugee Centre in the United States, came to the school last year to do a reading of her book, 'Four Feet, Two Sandals'," said Connie Turner, the elementary school principal at the Islamabad International School in the Pakistani capital.
"The story about friendship and sacrifice between two Afghan girls really touched the kids. They couldn't bear the idea of refugee kids going through winter in their bare feet," she added. As a result, the students started a shoe drive and collected hundreds of pairs of shoes and socks. Their parents pitched in by sorting the shoes into different sizes.
The 320 pairs of shoes and sandals, together with 750 pairs of new socks, were recently distributed in Kheshki refugee village in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). With only 127 Afghan families and 678 individuals, Kheshki is among the smallest refugee settlements around, but its needs are great as the refugees have limited employment opportunities in the area.
"I am really thankful to those children who donated these shoes and socks," said Salima, a widow and mother of four. "It gives me a good feeling that children who have not met us have thought about us and helped us through their donation."
Families with six or fewer members were given one pair of socks per family member, one pair of shoes per family and one pack of high protein biscuits donated by UNHCR. Female-headed families and those with more than six members were given an additional pair of shoes and a pack of biscuits. An additional 36 pairs of shoes and 48 packs of biscuits were given to children below five years of age who were present at the distribution site.
Raiza Gul, a four-year-old with a bright smile on her face, was very happy to get a sandal of her choice. "I know it is big and does not fit me now, but I will wait for another year and will wear it on Eid," she said, referring to the Muslim holy festival.
Seven-year-old Shafi Muhammad was equally excited to get a brand new pair of sports shoes: "I cannot wait to wear them and run. I would love to show them to my friends who will envy me."
Kheshki refugee village was established in 1988. The majority of its residents are ethnic Pashtuns hailing from Kunar, Logar and Kunduz provinces of Afghanistan. There are more than 2 million registered Afghans in Pakistan today, less than half of them living in 85 refugee villages - mostly in NWFP and Balochistan.
By Rabia Ali in Kheshki refugee village, Pakistan