School aims to warm Afghans

Eighth-grader cuts through red tape to deliver clothes.

By: Gwen Runkle
   PLAINSBORO — In an effort to help Afghan children in refugee camps along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Community Middle School on Grover’s Mill Road is holding a clothing drive all this week.
   And just one day into the event, called "America’s Warm Promise," the school’s front hall is filled by barrels stuffed full with sweatshirts, jackets and other much needed items.
   "We’ve asked for warm clothes," said Liza Miller, a guidance counselor at Community Middle School who helped organize the event. "But there is an urgent need for shoes, socks and mittens. And so far we’ve had an overwhelming response."
   Once the drive ends Friday, Ms. Miller expects to meet this weekend with Sehr Akbar, an eighth-grade student who was the driving force behind the effort, and a committee of students to begin sorting and packing the clothing.
   "Then DHL (Worldwide Express) will be coming in Tuesday to oversee our final packing," Ms. Miller said. "They’ll be donating the transportation of all the boxes to the John F. Kennedy International Airport."
   At the airport, Pakistan International Airlines will be receiving all the goods and shipping them on a space-available basis to Islamabad. "They’ve agreed to ship 400 kilograms, or about 1,000 pounds, for free," Ms. Miller said.
   In Islamabad, a representative from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees will receive the clothes and transport them across the border to the Afghan refugee camps, she said.
   But none of this would be happening without the "incredible effort" of one dedicated student, Ms. Miller added. "Over the past two months, Sehr made all the contacts to make this possible. She has worked so hard — it’s incredible."
   Sehr said she was inspired to do something to help Afghan children after seeing their hardships firsthand.
   "Over the summer I went to Pakistan with my family and visited the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan," said Sehr. "I saw all the poverty and despair, and with the recent influx of refugees after Sept. 11 I knew the conditions would worsen. That’s why I wanted to do this. I wanted to give back to my mom’s country.
   "(All the planning) was pretty tough," she added. "I encountered countless obstacles and tons of red tape, but with the support of Ms. Miller, my mother and brother, I was able to make it all work."
   The clothing drive is not open to the general public. Only the Community Middle School is participating.