From Fear to Triumph to Hope

Back in February I wrote my first blog on the fear I associated with this project. I realize now, that while I was afraid I would fail at this project, I was more overwhelmed by the task we had before us. I had thought of the sheer amount of school supplies it would take to fill our 110 box goal as a class, and just didn’t know if we could do it. As the semester went on, the pressure of the goal did get to one of our classmates. In the end, he dropped the class and our goal was adjusted to 100 boxes. This still left us with 79,200 cubic inches of space to fill with school supplies. To put this in perspective, imagine a gallon of milk. 79,200 cubic inches fills about 343 gallons! That is ALOT of space. Even with this new, smaller goal, I was afraid we were going to fail and overwhelmed with the job we had to do.

I finished my portion of the goal last month. I had collected my ten boxes and was pleased with the results of my efforts. At that point, my fear of this project turned into triumph. I had met my goal, and with almost a month left, I had a feeling that my classmates would meet their goals too. Last week and today, we had two classes of pure chaos.

My last packed box. Over the semester I completely filled 12 boxes, and helped fill another 2 with odds and ends left over from my collection (Photo by: Shelby Register 2012).

We spent our time packing, taping, labeling, counting, filling out custom’s forms, and loading boxes into cars. Everyone kind of did his or her own thing, and I just thought it was amazing to look around and see such a flurry of activity. All for the children of Afghanistan.

Two of my classmates, filling boxes with supplies collected as a class (Photo by: Shelby Register 2012).

Last week we mailed 45 boxes, and today we are mailing 66 boxes. This brings us to 111 boxes of school supplies we have collected, with a few more boxes to pack on Thursday in a special class meeting. This means we did it! We smashed through our 100 box goal!

My friend Phoebe, with Professor Temple's car STUFFED with 68 boxes that will be mailed later today (Photo by: Shelby Register 2012).

111 boxes of triumph over our fear of this project. 111 boxes of hope for the children of Afghanistan. When I started this class I never realized the difference it would make. Through our class, I am making a difference in the lives of children more than 7000 miles away. I will never meet these children, but I know their education will benefit from the work I have done this semester. I, and my classmates, have provided enough school supplies for hundreds of students. While I cannot go to Afghanistan and change the poverty level, I can provide school supplies. I can provide access to education. I can provide hope.

And you can too.

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Lifeskill Award Ceremony: presented by Jenna Cummings

Have you ever received a really nice thank-you card? The kind that makes you love that you donated or gave someone a gift even more? Well, I would like to attempt to thank everyone who has helped me this semester with our School Supplies for Afghanistan cause. Besides just writing thank-yous, I wanted to do a little something else. When I was in elementary school, every year we had an award ceremony and we were awarded ‘Lifeskill’ awards. Well, I would like to conduct a virtual awards ceremony:

Ruschelle Leone, recipient of the Lifeskill productiveness! (Photo from Ruschelle Leone)

First, I would like to thank Ruschelle Leone and award her with the Lifeskill of productiveness. I feel like whenever I present Ruschelle with a problem, she not only solves it, but she comes up with more than one fabulous answer. In this case, when I told Ruschelle about my School Supplies cause, she donated items to me that helped fill over 10 boxes. How much more productive can you get than that?

Speaking of productivity, I would like to next thank Karen Bettin and award her with the Lifeskill of unconditional generousness. Rarely do you meet a complete stranger, and this complete stranger strongly changes the course of your future (with no thoughts of how they benefit from this generosity). Karen not only changed the course of my classmate Phoebe and I’s future working on this cause, but with her donations (which helped to fill MANY boxes), she has changed the future of many children in Afghanistan.

Kimberly Phillips and Tyler Cox, recipients of the Lifeskill awesomeness! (Photo by Jenna Cummings)

Now, I would like to collectively thank Chelsea Russell and the USF chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi, Alexia Barnes, Tyler Cox, Kimberly Phillips, and Aaron Stewart. Furthermore, I would like to award all these individuals with the Lifeskill of awesomeness. Some of these individuals invited me to present my cause at an event, others donated crayons, some even donated monetary funds (which later were allocated to a different cause of my course). Regardless, all of these individuals should know just how awesome they are for selflessly giving to the cause, whether it a big or small donation.

Finally, I would like to give a huge thank-you to my fellow classmate Phoebe Chang and award her with the Lifeskill of flexibility. Around spring break, my car broke and ever since I have been taking the Hartline bus. Since it is not exactly easy to lug school supplies around on the public bus, Phoebe has been offering me rides and transport for supplies. Not only that, she has worked with me on every event I have done for this class and I have really appreciated the peer support.

Want a Lifeskill award? It is never too late to donate – just click here to get started!!!

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A Load Lifted

I’ve spent most of this week in academic agony finalizing my thesis and gathering all the supplementary materials to submit my grad school application; and it dawned on me just how lucky I am. Despite the rising costs and the constant complaints of students; it is expected that young adults in the States get at least an undergraduate degree. Yet in places like Afghanistan you’d be lucky to have a high school education.

Some of the boxes packed on April 16th during class. Photo by Alejandro Cuesta.

This week our class spent our time packing hard collected supplies for transport. It was increasingly satisfying to see our hard work yielding tangible results. Several hundred pounds of supply and a couple of cramped wrists later, we finally loaded 45 full boxes of supplies on to a loading cart; which then took two people to push and squealed like a dying boar. By the time we got to Professor Temple’s car I thought the wheels were gonna pop off the poor cart. An interesting parallel, once we loaded our 45 boxes of supplies into the car, we discovered that it was parked in space 45. It was just one of those days.

Picture of Liisa Temple putting in leftover packaging supplies to a car full of 45 boxes of donated school supplies. Photo by Alejandro Cuesta.

So now with almost half of the desired 110 boxes packed and shipped, we look towards what’s left in our last week of classes. Sure we’ve got a room full of supplies that couldn’t be packed this week, but that doesn’t mean we’re done. We’ll be doing a final scrimmage for supplies and I hope that if you have the ability to help, you won’t let it go to waste. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you think you can help.

As always, follow this link for a list of items collected for school supply donations or if you have supplies for donation. Thank you for your support and have a good weekend.

Posted in Afghanistan, blog, Charity, Children, Education, School Supplies for Afghan Children, Shipping, Uncategorized, USF Honors College | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

45 Boxes of School Supplies!

Walking into class last Monday, I was shocked see all the school supplies we collected over the past few months. During the last class, we packed 45 boxes of donated schools supplies for the Afghan children, with much more school supplies waiting to be packed in our storage room. It was extremely exciting to see all our hard work right there before our eyes, to know through our efforts, we were able to collect that many boxes of supplies.  This to me, proved to be a moment of success!

Our class packing the 45 boxes of school supplies!! (Photo Courtesy Avagay W.)

Now, in our storage room, we still have a tone of school supplies that needs to be packed and shipped to the Afghan children. For the past few weeks, we have dedicated the majority of class time packing school supplies, making sure to double check every single detail, such as to properly tape and label each and every box. If you remember from the beginning of the semester, we learnt that it is extremely important to make sure to properly seal and label each box, in order to avoid insects from entering and to avoid the stress of having any school supplies return due to an incorrect address label. So, for the next class meeting, we will be packing those remaining school supplies and to hopefully have a shipment as big as last week’s.

It really hasn’t hit me yet that this coming Monday will be our last official class meeting. Beginning this journey over four months ago and seeing where we are today, certainly proves that a small group of just ten honors students through team work, resilience, and determination, we can accomplish so much more than any of us ever imagined. Moreover, our instructor Liisa Temple has made sure to be there whenever we needed her, every step of the way. Having gone through this journey before with her previous class, she could certainly relate to how we felt in aiming to achieve our goals. Throughout the semester our instructor would constantly encourage us and would always say, I hope you guys realize that you are doing a great job!! Prof. Temple has certainly been the brains of this entire project.

45 boxes of school supplies, I was surprised they even fit into Prof. Temple's van! (Photo courtesy Avagay W)

On another front, we had Jessica Edmondson a writer from the USF Oracle, came and interviewed myself and a few of my classmates during class on Monday. Jessica was curious to know from all of us what has been the biggest impact by going through this experience. I told Jessica, by taking this honors course it allowed me to raise funds and collect school supplies for a cause, but most importantly as a class we were able to bring awareness about certain issues to the forefront, like that many Afghan children cannot afford something as simple as a pencil to attend school. Moreover, with the US military involvement in Afghanistan for so many years now, yet the average American is still unaware that many people in Afghanistan are uneducated. So, by taking Social Media, Social Change, we were able to highlight these issues to our local community and in certain instances even beyond that, and this to me has been the biggest impact taking this class—BRINGING AWARENESS!! 

Posted in Afghanistan, Bulls Business Community, Change, Charity, Children, Education, Fundraising, Holland & Knight Foundation, School Supplies for Afghan Children, Social media, USF Honors College | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sometimes a Teacher, Always a Student

The summer before my freshman year of high school I went on a mission trip with my church to Mobile, Alabama. It was a part of Catholic Heart Workcamp. No joke, this camp changed my life. For one week we were paired with other students from around the country and spent the day helping those in need. We painted houses, raked, gardened, fixed what was broken, and spent time forming relationships with the residents we helped, people who used to be like us but had lost a lot due to an illness or unforeseen circumstance.

Catholic Heart Workcamp's Logo

What I remember most about that week was day one. My group had been paired up and went through a meet and greet the night before. This was our first full day together, however, so we were sort of at that awkward point where we weren’t totally comfortable yet. Out of all the assignments we could have gotten that involved manual labor…and we were stuck packing school supplies. For eight hours we counted pencils and pens and packed them and other school supplies in boxes to be sent to various needy schools in the area. It was tedious work, but these children really needed it.

Those eight hours cooped up in a room all day actually helped our group grow stronger and closer. We warmed up quickly with each other and had a great time.

More than that, though, taking on this tedious task actually helped make me humble. I had been to a private Catholic grammar school for eight years of my life and was about to start at a private Catholic high school. I was extremely lucky to be given the chance for such a wonderful education. And here were children in Alabama that barely had enough school supplies to even get an education. It made me extremely appreciative of my life.

Our 45 boxes this week (Photo taken by: Me)

I never knew the six years later I would be tackling the same task once again, albeit not in eight hours but in an entire college spring semester. Once again, in this instance, I became the student. Although I have not met these children in Afghanistan that I am helping, just as I did not meet the children I was helping in Alabama, they have taught me more than enough. They have taught me how to make every bit count. They have taught me how to appreciate the things that I have before they are gone. They have taught me to enjoy my education and cherish it for all that it’s worth. They have taught me to work hard to succeed even though everything might seem like it is against me at points.

I am extremely blessed to be able to once again take on this task of changing children’s lives. I am extremely proud of my class for the hard work they have done. We packed and shipped 45 boxes this past week. The exciting thing is, we have an entire storage closet full of stuff still to go.

45 Boxes packed in Professor Temple's car ready for the post office (ironically parked in spot 45!)
(Photo taken by: Me)

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Unexpected Generosity from Incredible People

I have the absolute best of news to discuss in my post this week.  Last week I mentioned that I would be collecting all the donations from Sister’s United Muslim Association on Friday.  I went to the meeting like any other, collection box in hand, excited to get to pick up donations to carry over to the storage room we have been using inside the USF Honors College.  I arrive a little late surprised to see that the meeting hasn’t really started yet.  Confused by this I look down the hall and I see three SUMA members struggling to pull a huge cart all the way up to the room.

A Tribute to SUMA and how all their teamwork and support is going to help so many Afghan Children: Photo Courtesy of USF SUMA

A collection cart is piled high with notebooks, paper, and fun erasers, the supplies practically overflowing from the cart.  Apparently, the supplies were donated by local Islamic private schools that several SUMA members were alumni of.  Seeing the mountains of notebooks made me at a loss for words.  I still don’t know how I can really thank SUMA and the schools they went to and obtained these donations from.  It gives me such joy to see this huge collection and to know how many kids will be helped by it.

SUMA was not the only ones to show incredible kindness to me on Friday.  Once the SUMA members passed the cart to me I began to make the trek from USF’s Marshall Center over to the Honors College.  Normally this would not be a difficult walk but carrying a huge cart covered with piles of notebooks made this an incredibly challenging journey.  The worst part was trying to fit the cart into the elevator by myself.  I spent quite some time struggling and I guess my struggles did not go entirely unnoticed.

After 10 minutes of fighting by myself to fit a very large and very full chart into a small elevator I finally hear a friendly voice, “You need some help?”.  I look up to see Dean Silverman of the Honors College at the front of the elevator.  Apparently, he saw me bring the cart over and thought it seemed like it was taking me too long to get the stuff up to the Honors College.  He helped me angle the cart into the elevator and I finally managed to get it upstairs with his help.

Dean Silverman: Photo Courtesy of the USF Honors College

The generosity of both SUMA and Dean Silverman amazed me that day.  It says a lot about a person as important as the Dean when he cares enough about his students to purposely leave his office to come help one of them get supplies into an elevator.   I can’t even explain how good it felt to receive such generosity from both SUMA and the Dean.  It amazes me to see how many others have been inspired by our project and our actions.  It feels really good to see everything come together.

The donations from SUMA filled about 15 shipping boxes alone, and more supplies are still waiting to get boxed up.  I am thrilled with the progress we have made this semester and all the work we have done to get much needed supplies to Afghan children.  If you are interested in learning more about School Supplies for Afghan Children, follow us on Facebook.

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The Life of a Box

On Monday we packed up around forty-five military flat rate shipping boxes to be sent over to Afghanistan, with more to follow in the coming weeks. Each box was carefully filled, taped up, and labeled. All of our hard work and labor is finally coming to fruition, and it feels really satisfying to see such concrete progress. The effort doesn’t end with dropping the boxes off at the post office, however. There are still many steps to go through until those supplies end up in the hands of needy children.

So what exactly takes place? Well, first the packages are sorted in the post office and individually cataloged by postal workers. They need to have every package on record so that they don’t lose any. Now, military mail is shipped from three locations, New York, Miami, and San Francisco, so that means our school supplies will be enjoying sunny sea shores for a bit longer.

Miami is almost 300 miles away, so it’s likely that they will be shipped using a cargo plane.

Shipping Cargo

Shipping cargo via plane.

That means that they will be put into a large domed shipping container that fits perfectly into the plane’s hold, or perhaps just packed up and shipped with other freight. The USPS has it’s own planes that can do shipping if it is a well traveled route but quite often they make use of planes from other shipping companies, such as FedEx.

Once the packages get to Miami they are once again sorted, traveling along extensive pathways of conveyor belts. They will get put with other items being sent overseas, most likely with other military boxes.

Boxes being shipped for military purposes have stricter rules to follow outside of those imposed by customs. They for instance are no longer allowed to be addressed to “any soldier” as was once allowed in the past (as opposed to the anonymous “to current resident” we get in our home mailboxes) and they may not contain obscene material, nudity, or pork. We, of course, already took great care that no one tried to slip anything objectionable into the donated supplies.

The packages will once again be placed onto a plane, along with the rest of the packages destined for foreign climes. The route here will probably be more direct as it will most likely go via military plane, ending up directly at a base in Afghanistan, probably Kabul, though it might make a couple pit stops along the way.

After being sorted in Kabul, the packages will be sent to a base where one of our volunteers is stationed. He will then arrange to form a convoy to one of the areas he knows can make use of the supplies, or else have a convoy already destined for one of these areas take on the extra packages along with whatever they might be doing. He will have to do this many times, as the journey to each of the places he visits is a large scale event, and it is best to give the supplies to a variety of people instead of a single school. No troop is allowed to go unescorted anywhere in Afghanistan so our care packages are always traveling under armed guard. The countryside is still a very dangerous place, but like us the troops are very dedicated to giving the Afghan people a better future. Convoys bring food and medical aid, and, with our help, school supplies to whomever needs them.

So, while our own personal journeys are coming to an end as the semester winds down, for others it has just begun…

Spc. Carlos Caballero, a Mississippi National Guard member with the 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, hustles as he sorts a holiday package at the Army Post Office on Kandahar Air Field, Nov. 25, 2010

Spc. Carlos Caballero, a Mississippi National Guard member with the 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, hustles as he sorts a holiday package at the Army Post Office on Kandahar Air Field, Nov. 25, 2010. During the holiday mail surge, Caballero and fellow postal workers at the KAF APO sort an average of 70,000 pounds of mail a day. At the peak of the mail surge, the workers will sort 125,000 pounds of mail a day. (Photo by Natalie Cole, 1st Sustainment Command (Theater) Public Affairs)

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What is an Education Worth

As each day goes by I am one day closer to walking across the stage and take the last few steps as an undergraduate collegiate.  With all these senior events I have been attending lately I have had a lot of time to think about what the past four years has meant to me. In the past few weeks I have attended USF’s Celebration of Leadership Awards, the Senior Leaders Academy, The Greek Awards, and my sorority’s “Senior Sendoff.”  These have been weeks full of praise, encouragement for our futures, and a time to look back at our memories from the past few years.

Soon I will be tossing my cap in the air at graduation!

My college education means everything to me. Never before have I felt so connected to a school, to it’s faculty, or to it’s students. I have learned so much both inside and outside of the classroom. Invaluable lessons and experiences that I will carry with me throughout my career and my life.  Every part of my undergraduate education is exponentially worth more than the costs I actually incurred.

As I look forward to my bright future, and reflect back to how I came to this point I am astonished.  Not including the years I spent in Preschool, I have 17 years of education under my belt. Seventeen years beginning with learning how to read and ending by putting the finishing touches on my Honors Thesis.  Looking back at my past causes me to look somewhere else as well. I look overseas.  In Afghanistan, if girls are lucky, they average 5.1 years of schooling. Boys average about 9. Some families can’t afford it, sometimes the resources just are not available to them – and that is why I do my part.

The backseat of my car

Today was an exciting day in class.  As I drove to school I glanced at my back seat in my rearview mirror.  There sat a donation box, USPS boxes packed to the brim with school supplies, and even more flat rate boxes ready to be taped up and stuffed full with supplies for the children in Afghanistan to use to continue their educations. I laughed and took a quick picture before I pulled out of my apartment complex. I thought “wow this is really taking up a lot of space in my car.”

And then a few hours later I learned the meaning of a full trunk…

The backseat of Professor Temple's car.

This was the back of Professor Temple’s car before she went out to the Post Office to ship the load of 45 boxes we had ready for today. (Ironic that she parked in spot 45 right?) Next week we are expecting to ship the same amount of boxes over to Afghanistan as well. Suddenly the idea that my backseat was filled with boxes and supplies seemed silly. My backseat was nothing compared to what my classmates and I loaded during our class.

Boxes and boxes filled with supplies, with resources, with a few more tools to hopefully allow more Afghan children to stay in school for even just one more year and to gain a deeper education like I have been so fortune of these past 17 years.

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Coming to an end.

The end is nearing and it is crunch time. As summer soon approaches this final stretch seems to go on forever. We continue to collect school supplies, packing them with love and care. We have been successful, many of us collecting more than 10 boxes, and the box in the Honors College office is overflowing with supplies every time we walk in on Monday morning.

We walk in to an AC filled room and look at a projector on the wall. It almost seems unfair and unjust that this is our learning experience when some of the children of Afghanistan get no experience at all. It seems unfair that parents would rather throw out unused paper, pens, and books because they are too lazy or do not care enough to donate them. If our military is pushing humanitarian efforts, why is the country moving in the opposite direction? Shouldn’t everyone be in full support of the soldiers on the ground there? If everyone is in support of this war ending why haven’t they made an effort to move in the right direction? And if we are so consumed with how to fix the world why haven’t we begun with ourselves? We have yet to change our mind sets, to figure out the actions we need to take in order to make the world a better place.

Boxes we packed in class yesterday, many more to come next week! (photo by Archana Reddy)

It is not enough to wish for a war to end; it is not enough to hope for it. We must act. If education is the key to saving lives then it is about time this country makes a move towards educating the children in Afghanistan. No matter where you are in this country, no matter your race, creed or economic status, this war touches your life. This war touches all parts of this country. If educating children is the key to saving lives, the key to ending a war, why haven’t we put a pencil in every single child’s hand? Just as this war has touched our entire country it had touched all of Afghanistan in the same way hope spreads, touching everything it sees. Hope ignites a fire in each of us, and grows; it can overcome anything. Each piece of paper we pack, each pencil or marker, is a piece of hope that we send to the children who have seen more than any child should.

So please, send your hope too.

Posted in Afghan War, Afghanistan, Awareness campaigns, blog, Change, Charity, Children, Children, Education, Fundraising, helping, Holland & Knight Foundation, Inspiration, Opportunities, School Supplies for Afghan Children, Shipping, Social media, University of South Florida, USF Honors College, USF Housing and Residential Education, War in Afghanistan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Journey Four Months in the Making

Back in January, as I readied myself for the new semester, I drove a few miles to the nearest Wal-Mart and picked up new pencils, pens, and notebooks for myself. Today, the school supplies we have been collecting started out on their journey. Unlike my last minute trip to Wal-Mart, these supplies are on a journey that we started 4 months ago. A journey that still has more than 7000 miles to go.

Last week, my mother surprised me. I came home to another box of supplies, these from the ladies of her Bible Study. I began to realize how many people touched and will touch these supplies in the process of getting them to Afghanistan.

Some of my classmate's hands, preparing the shipment that went out today (Photo by: Shelby Register 2012).

The supplies that my mother collected were first touched by the ladies of her Bible Study; they gathered them from their homes or went to the store and bought them. Then, they were collected in a box by my mother. They journeyed from a church in Riverview, to our home in Lithia. My brother was the next person to touch these school supplies, and then my father who put them in my car. I then travelled with them from Lithia to USF, where my classmates and I will pack them. Professor Temple will touch them next, taking them to a post office, where worker after worker will transport them on their way to Afghanistan.

By the time these supplies have reached Afghanistan, a countless number of hands will have helped these supplies on their journey. The owners of these hands may or may not know what is in the boxes they held, but I and my classmates know and have told many others about the important work we are doing. The supplies are on a journey now, heading to Afghanistan. A journey sending them across the world. A journey that will end only when a child is holding them. A journey that will bring education, progress, and, hopefully, peace. A journey that ends in hope.

Professor Temple arbitrarily chose parking spot #45 this morning, little did she know that two hours later, we would have exactly 45 boxes of hope loaded into her car, ready for shipping (Photo by: Shelby Register 2012).

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