- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

President Bush packed a chest with school supplies bound for Afghanistan at a local school yesterday, and called on America's children to help donate 2,000 more such chests to their less fortunate counterparts in the war-torn country.
"We want boys and girls to grow up in a world where they can be free … we are doing a lot to help children get an education," Mr. Bush told a roomful of children from more than 50 countries who attend Samuel W. Tucker Elementary in Alexandria. With the president was first lady Laura Bush, a former schoolteacher and librarian.
This Saturday, thousands of children are expected to begin school in Afghanistan. The chest that Mr. Bush and the first lady helped pack with notebooks, pencils, crayons and even jump ropes, will be among 1,000 the American Red Cross will distribute to Afghan schools this weekend. Each chest contains supplies for 40 students, a Red Cross spokeswoman said.
The president said there is a need for 2,000 more chests to be completed by May 31, to benefit 120,000 Afghan children. He called on children around the country to contact their local Red Cross chapters to contribute.
"No matter how you do it, how you raise the money, just do it," he said.
In October last year, Mr. Bush called on American schoolchildren to donate a dollar each to help children in Afghanistan. So far, children have contributed $4.6 million "to benefit people they never met," said Harold Decker, president of the American Red Cross.
Mr. and Mrs. Bush stressed the need to help girls in Afghanistan return to school a chance they have been denied for a long time, they said. Mrs. Bush commended efforts by some global groups to sew uniforms for Afghan girls, who were forbidden from going to school after the fundamentalist Taliban regime took control of the country in 1996.
Holding up a black-and-white dress that Afghan girls wear to school, she said: "When you give a child a uniform, you give her family an incentive to send her to school."
Speakers told the children about the hardships faced by children in Afghanistan, many of whom had no access to toys, soft beds and even food and water. "If you help someone in need, it makes you a better person," Mr. Bush told the children.
Before the event, 6-year-old Maryam Rasool, an Afghan-American who attends first grade at Tucker Elementary, recited the pledge, dressed in a traditional Afghan dress. She said it took her "one minute" to prepare for it.
Her father, Hawja Rasoon, who was a schoolteacher in Afghanistan and works as a cabdriver in this country, has so far built three schools back home and is just back from a visit there.
"The children are so happy now that the Taliban have gone," he said, adding that thousands of girls are now attending school in the country.
"They are very happy. They always ask questions about the United States and the lives of children here," said Mr. Rasool, who plans to return to his country with his family next month, after living here for 12 years.
Yesterday, when the president and first lady walked into the school gym that doubled as an auditorium, the children who had been unusually silent while waiting in their chairs burst into applause, craning to get a better view. Later, when he walked down from the podium to greet them, they clamored to shake his hand.
"They have been very excited about his visit," said special-education teacher Shawna Carter.
"I had expected to see him surrounded by the Secret Service," said fifth-grader Kelly Powers, 10.
"He did a good job with his speech," she said, adding that she would heed his call for helping Afghan children. "I plan to raise some money by doing carwashes."

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