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Afghan Women Receive Computers

A contingent of Afghan women broke out of training at Springfield's Gateway Computers store for a visit by Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) to commemorate a computer training program that is a victory for the women.

Marzia Basel, a judge in Afghanistan, was among the 14 women who accepted the refurbished computers and are headed for two weeks of additional training at universities before heading back to Afghanistan.

"We will give this training to the people of Afghanistan. Slowly, slowly, we will come back on track. Women now feel themselves free," she said.

Allen addressed the women and Gateway representatives.

"We look at you women to be leaders in Afghanistan. You will see a very bright future in Afghanistan," he said.

Wolf remarked on what he saw on a trip to the war zone in the past year.

"I saw the suffering that your people have gone through. I believe the strength of Afghanistan is really through the women," he said.

He noted his voting record on such matters and the mistakes the United States made in the past.

"I fund this committee and State Department in my bill so we encourage more of this. After we helped Afghanistan defeat the Soviet Union [in 1989], we left. We're not leaving this time," he said.

The Afghan women embarked on the trip to study specific computer skills, communications and leadership management. The program, called "U.S. Leadership Management and Computer Education for Afghan Women," is an educational exchange program created in association with the U.S-Afghan Women's Council, according to State Department information.

Helen Mobley, chief of the Voluntary Visitors Division for the State Department, looked at the Taliban influence on the women's education.

"Because of the last 23 years, women had not had a chance to become educated. Most of them already have e-mail addresses. They're going to three universities for two weeks to get training," she said.

Colleges that they are scheduled to train at include Kennesaw State University, University of Denver and University of California-Davis. They will be trained by collegiate experts.

Carrie Cantrell, Allen's press secretary, noted the senator's movement for "freedom and opportunity for all."

"I think there's been a dedicated effort by the U.S. community," she said.

The computers were the same ones that were sent by Gateway to Afghanistan during the Olympic Games so that soldiers could follow the games and e-mail home. They were sent back to Gateway headquarters in North Sioux City, Iowa, and refurbished. Kathleen Dunn, Gateway marketing manager, said the computers were part of their donation program.

"We have quite a large donation program," she said.

BURQAS WERE not worn by any of the Afghan women, but Basel said the women are reluctant in Afghanistan to give the head coverings up completely. Some had colorful scarves, but not the extreme burqas that have only a narrow eye slit.

"Some of them are wearing, some are not. It takes time, slowly it's getting better," she said.

Allen tried to reassure the women that the U.S. involvement was not a temporary solution.

"I think there is a strong bipartisan support to stay involved. Formation of a civil government in Afghanistan, Bush respects human rights," he said.

"It's a great victory," Basel said.

After the presentation, Allen hurried out the door, leaving little time for comments on developments in the Middle East such as the Iraq situation. Cantrell reiterated his views on the matter.

"Sen. Allen would hope that military action would be a last resort," Cantrell said. "The senator believes the president should have the power to protect the American people."