It began with a pencil.
On July 9, Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple went on a medical operation mission in a heavily Taliban-run village in Afghanistan.
He said prior to their visit, the Taliban made threats that any civilian who even talked to the Americans would have their head chopped off and paraded around the town.
Then, an eight-year-old boy risked his life just to ask for a pencil. He began to tell of the horrible conditions he was forced to live in.
He asked who would protect them after the troops left.
“They crowd into a dimly lit room and sit quietly on the concrete floor or wooden benches. The paint on the walls is peeling and the inside room temperature frequently reaches a hundred degrees and drops below freezing during the winter. An occasional breeze blows between the broken shards of glass still attached to the window frames.”
This passage is from the online blogs posted by Rex Temple, who currently serves at Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan.
Of the many missions, he has undergone in his four deployments to the Middle East, this final journey has been the most rewarding.
“These kids don’t have desks, the teachers don’t have chalkboards and class is held either under an overhang or underneath a shade tree,” he said.
“They have absolutely no money to buy supplies. Some of the teachers have spray paint and use [it] on the walls to teach.”
Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, a communication professor for The University of Tampa, clad in a light-pink hat that read “Air Force Wife” spoke of the long distance project that she and her husband have been working on together.
After witnessing the real, heartbreaking conditions of Afghan children and their schools, kindergarten through high school, Rex Temple made one phone call to his wife back home.
She sent one box of school supplies.
A few days later, he asked her to send more.
She and her friends set up a campaign to collect supplies for the children and began shipping boxes to Afghanistan.
“His superior told Rex to make it a team event,” she said. “The team comes from bases all across the country.”
This way, they could reach a wider audience.
“Friends of ours, affiliated with the Holland & Knight [Charitable Foundation, Inc.], were willing to help us out with the donations,” said Liisa Temple.
“With an actual foundation, we could receive monetary donations with 100 percent of the proceeds going directly the shipping fund.”
Their service work has touched the hearts of many people
They used Rex Temple’s post as a guest column for their Sept. 11 issue, which, in turn, rallied an abundance of boxes full of school supplies.
“We raised over $3,000 for shipping,” said Liisa Temple. “Then, Fox 13, here in Tampa, featured it.”
The SS American Victory, the museum ship in Channelside, offered to help store all of the boxes ready for shipment to Afghanistan.
Liisa Temple thoroughly enjoys working towards giving school supplies to Afghan children. She alone sent 30 boxes and is currently trying to raise awareness at UT.
She is in the process of working with Greek organizations on campus and hopes to reach out to the ROTC program and sports teams, as well.
PEACE, the university’s volunteer center, is working with the project.
“It’s not about the war; it’s about little kids who don’t even have pencils,” she said. “Regardless of where you are, kids all deserve an education.
Currently, St. Petersburg College in Pinellas County, Coleman Middle School in Tampa, Oak Grove Middle School in Pinellas County, Independent Day School in Tampa and the Muslim Students Association at USF are all donating to the drive.
The Temples are planning on continuing the project even after Rex Temple returns home in May 2010.
They hope to raise enough money one day to have a school built for the children.
In his blog, Rex Temple wrote, “I may not be able to capture Osama Bin Laden personally, but I can defy the Al Qaeda and Taliban ideology by helping to educate tomorrow’s leaders in Afghanistan.”
He said that “every pen or pencil is like a sword in the Taliban’s heart.”
For more information e-mail TRexinAfghanistan@gmail.com or visit http://afghanistanmylasttour.com.
- spiral notebooks
- coloring books
- metric rulers
- pencil sharpeners
- children’s scissors
- construction paper
Mel Steiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org