CAMP SABALU-HARRISON, Afghanistan-- Service members of Task Force Protector here have found a way to make a difference for children in Afghanistan through Operation PENCIL.
Operation PENCIL, a volunteer program started in 2009, promotes education throughout Afghanistan and encourages children to learn. Volunteers distribute school supplies and teach the fundamentals of writing. PENCIL, an acronym for pencil, eraser, notebook, crayons, illustrations and learn, says a lot about the program's mission.
The volunteer program originated as part of the family visitation program within the Detention Facility in Parwan. When families and their children came to visit detainees, service members participating in the program would give school supplies to the children as they left the facility.
The program is now called Operation PENCIL and has expanded to a weekly event, held at the DFIP entry control point, where volunteers hand out supplies and encourage the children to write and color.
"We use the toys to attract them and get them into coloring and writing; the kids really enjoy it," said Spc. Denise L. Brummett, entry control point specialist, Task Force Hell Hound.
Operation PENCIL is comprised of more than 50 service member and civilian volunteers who collect, organize and prepare the supplies for distribution. They also work with the children and encourage them to engage in the events.
"The parents are the hardest to get involved, so we started putting things out that would attract them," said Brummett. "Once [the parents] warmed up to us, the children [were] allowed to stop and play."
The service members are getting support from organizations back home in the states. Operation PENCIL has received donations from family members, churches, schools and other organizations looking to help the volunteers in their mission.
"The volunteers are taking advantage of the opportunity to build relationships and assist in the overall mission of winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people," said Capt. Mary E. Baars, chaplain to the theater intelligence group, Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435.
The overwhelming responses from the U.S. allowed the program to expand and open up the effort to a broader audience.
Operation PENCIL has not stopped at school supplies. They have distributed blankets, scarves, hats, gloves and other warm clothing appropriate for the winter season.
"This boosts the morale of our volunteers and gives them the opportunity to do something that makes a difference in the lives of many people," said Baars.
"I have really enjoyed making a difference," said Brummett.
The Service members volunteering their time with Operation PENCIL have distributed more than 2000 bags of school supplies to the local populace and 100 teacher supply boxes. In the last six months, the volunteers have coordinated seven Egyptian hospital visits, where they distributed more than 700 bags filled with school supplies.