Chantilly congregation sends school supplies to Kabul kids

Nato and nuns
School supplies from Temple Beth Torah in Chantilly are delivered to the nuns of the Sisters of Mother Theresa in Kabul, who will distribute them to local orphans. Photo provided by Temple Beth Torah

Darcy Wertz has spent his career working at international nonprofit organizations, but when families at his synagogue, Temple Beth Torah in Chantilly, formed groups as a way of getting to know each other, it was just by happenstance he was grouped with Steve Bondy.

In July, Bondy, a State Department diplomat, was posted to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“There has to be something we can do for the kids in Afghanistan,” Wertz remembers saying to Bondy, once he was in Kabul.

That something turned out to be 100 backpacks filled with school supplies for orphans in Kabul.

The effort was part of Operation Backpack, which was brought to Bagram Air Base in Kabul by a service member in 2015 who had led a similar initiative at home. Although initially a military effort, Operation Backpack was expanded to the U.S. Embassy last year, according to Lt. Col. Paloma Beausoleil, who helps organize Operation Backpack in the Afghan capital.

Although the country’s economy has improved since the Taliban regime fell in 2001, Afghanistan is “extremely poor, landlocked and highly dependent on foreign aid. Much of the population continues to suffer from shortages of housing, clean water, electricity, medical care, and jobs,” according to the CIA World Fact Book.
Wertz and Bondy’s idea to contribute to Operation Backpack was received well by the synagogue’s leadership.

“This hit a nerve with all of us and seemed like a great way to give back to a greater community, and support one of our members,” said President Jane Ayers.

The backpacks, holding pens, pencils, spiral notebooks, rulers and calculators, were donated and packed by congregants in December, arrived in Kabul last month, Bondy and Beausoleil said last week during a Skype interview from Kabul.

Ayers said congregants were asked to donate in increments of $18, a number representing “life” in Hebrew. Each $18 donation covered the cost of two backpacks.

Getting the school supplies from the small synagogue in the hands of orphans in Kabul was easy — for the first 7,400 miles.

The congregation mailed the backpacks to the U.S. Embassy. However, due to security concerns, military and State Department officials are restricted from leaving the base, so Bondy and Beausoleil were prevented from delivering the school supplies themselves.

So Resolute Support Mission took over. RSM, a NATO-led operation that advises, trains and assists Afghan security forces, brought the supplies to nuns of the Sisters of Mother Theresa, who operate charity houses and will distribute the supplies to Afghan orphans. n

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