In the United States, used water bottles are tossed into recycle bins. In Afghanistan, they’re snapped up by young people — as toys.
“I thought that was pretty sad,” Alison Schug remarked.”We have so much compared to them.”
Alison, 12, had learned of such economic disparities from her uncle, Bob, who is on military duty in the Middle Eastern country. She was so deeply moved that she leapt into action last summer, using $50 of her own money to send gifts to Afghanistan.
Alison’s focus has now spread to include her brother Andrew, 13, as well as their entire religious-education class at Holy Cross Parish in Freeville/Dryden. On Dec. 7, Holy Cross shipped two big boxes of toys and other small gifts overseas. One went to Bob Schug in Afghanistan; the other to Iraq where a native Holy Cross parishioner also serves in the military. (That person asked not to be identified for security reasons.) From there, the items were to be distributed to native children.
Approximately 20 Holy Cross youths, as well as the religious-education staff, took part in the project. They staged a collection at church and then went on a shopping trip, buying numerous small gifts that could be easily transported abroad such as pens, crayons, stickers, magnets, Play-Doh, chalk and Beanie Babies. In addition, the students made cards for their peers in distant lands.
Bob Schug acknowledged on Dec. 15 that his package had arrived a couple of days earlier. “(The youths) are to be commended, because I never asked them to send things. They heard of a need and acted on it,” he commented via e-mail.
The project’s success also made a strong impression on Anne-Marie Brogan, pastoral associate at Holy Cross.
“We got loads of stuff. What kind of made me excited was it came from the children; they made it happen,” Brogan said. “I think we’ve got to encourage our young people to take their Christian ministry responsibly, not just sit back and wait for things to happen.”
Bob Schug is a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve and is currently supporting an Army mission in Afghanistan. He is from Syracuse and has several family members who belong to Holy Cross. This is his first tour of duty overseas. As part of his duties, Schug is helping build schools in war-torn areas. He explained that because school supplies are scarce in Afghanistan, he and other military personnel sought to round up more, and their generosity grew from there.
“When we saw the reaction of excitement from the kids just getting pens and notepads, and how happy they were, we decided to start giving toys, shoes, mittens and other things they didn’t have,” he wrote. “All we hope to accomplish is to see these kids smile.”
Bob Schug serves on an embedded training team at Camp Blackhorse, located just east of the capital city of Kabul. He noted that the U.S. Army’s goal is to help train the Afghan army to be self-sufficient while also making living-condition improvements in such ways as building wells and providing electricity.
Schug acknowledged that the gift-giving isn’t on the list of official duties, but many fellow military personnel as well have embarked upon doing this “because there is such a big need … they really don’t have much of anything out here, so they really appreciate everything we bring them, which makes it so rewarding.”
His niece and nephew are happy to be part of this goodwill effort.
“I felt great buying stuff for people who had a lot less than us,” Andrew said.
Barney Schug, Alison and Andrew’s father, said his brother is in a relatively safe area and is excited about the progress that’s being made in Afghanistan; for instance, native girls are being allowed to go to school for the first time. However, Barney noted that Bob’s wife and two children in Syracuse, along with other family members in the Dryden area, are feeling the effects of his eight-month absence from home.
“The family is doing OK, but it’s hard on them at the holidays especially,” Barney said.
“We really miss him a lot,” Alison added.
“I think about him every day, and just hope he comes home safe and sound,” Andrew said.