- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan A group of New York City firefighters and police officers will be answering the prayers of hundreds of freezing children in Kabul's bleak orphanages when they arrive in Kabul today with a donation of humanitarian supplies.

Boys and girls whose parents have died during long years of civil war are huddled together in a few orphanages in Kabul that have no electricity or heating in freezing winter, living on rice and beans and with no entertainment.

What little funding existed for the orphanages was cut off when the war came to Kabul in the form of U.S.-led bombing raids, begun Oct. 7 in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

"I was afraid when the Americans were bombing Kabul, so all of us girls sat together here in this bedroom," said Farozan, 13, one of the residents of the Allauddin orphanage in the city.

"I didn't know why America was bombing, and I still don't know why. The bombs made the windows shake and the glass break," she said.

The New York relief team will bring 29 tons of supplies including rice, oil, powdered milk and blankets to be distributed to orphanages in Kabul with the help of the World Food Program.

More than 350 New York firefighters and police officers were killed in the terrorist attacks blamed on the Afghanistan-based al Qaeda network.

Farozan, a shy girl wearing a red skirt and thin blue shawl, said she had been living in Allauddin orphanage for two years since her mother died six years ago and her father had mental problems. Her sister, Farayba, 9, is also in the orphanage.

Farozan said the Taliban came to the orphanage during the bombing and said the children would not be affected. "I trusted the Taliban."

After a moody pause, she added, "If you talk to American girls my age, please say hello to them from me." She was joined by nine other girls sitting on the floor in front of metal cots and flaking walls.

Asked what items they might like to have sent to them from America, they listed: "heating oil," "notebooks," "pens," "soap" and "soup."

In the next room, 10-year-old Malalay said, "We are cold. We have stoves, but no oil to burn. We don't get warm clothes, just these thin shawls. We are all cold at night."

Malalay's father died during the war "long ago," and her mother died after the war. "One of my brothers lives here. He's 9. My older brother lives in another orphanage in Kabul. He is 15," she said.

Malalay, who wishes to be a teacher when she grows up, wants more books so she can add to her curriculum of Dari language, mathematics and Muslim prayers.

None of the girls has seen television or a movie. "There is nothing much to do in this orphanage. Most of the time we just sit here and talk with each other and play with each other," Malalay said. "Sometimes we sing."

Outside the white, two-story dormitories, puddles in the dirt yard remain frozen at noon. Fresh snow packs the mountains surrounding Kabul.

"We have no electricity here," said Abdul Sabor, 50, the orphanage's assistant director. "We had a generator but it stopped because we have no diesel oil to run it."

The orphanage holds 450 girls and boys ages 5 or older, but no babies since there's no baby food or other facilities for babies.

"The Taliban gave some money to the orphanage but less than normally," Mr. Sabor said. Since September, the problems have increased. "The staff have not been paid for four to five months."

During the U.S. bombings, about 70 percent of the children were sent to live with relatives. Those with no living relatives were sent to another orphanage in north Kabul.

Mr. Sabor said adoption is rare in Afghanistan because it is "a great shame to give your child to a stranger." So, if a mother dies giving birth, a relative must take care of the child. Poor relatives often give the children to orphanages and take them back when they are about 12 years old, when they can work, he said.

Officials said 850 to 900 orphans live in Kabul, and countless thousands are scattered throughout Afghanistan.

"Many people in Kabul want to send their children to orphanages because they cannot afford to take care of them, but we cannot afford to take care of the children either," said Habib Samim, 32, director of child psychology and education at the Education Ministry.

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