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Learning Kindness

Bells Mill make booklets to exchange with schoolchildren in Afghanistan.

Hunched over an accordion-style paper booklet that she had spent the better part of three hours making, second-grader Anna Haskin was just hoping that her work would be well received.

“I hope somebody in Afghanistan likes what I made,” Anna said.

If all goes according to plan, Anna’s booklet will someday soon be read by an Afghani child much like herself. Anna’s booklet is one of dozens of accordion-style picture books that the first-grade and second-grade students at Bells Mill Elementary School finished making on Monday, May 14.

Over the course of 12 pages, the booklets show an American child and an Afghani child coming together underneath the flags of both countries. On the last page the students wrote “Let’s be friends,” and pasted on typed notes that say “Two Countries Meet,” in English and in Farsi.

“The pictures are so the kids over there will know what you look like and so they’ll know that you guys want to be friends,” said Melanie Twomey, the wife of Brigadier General Andrew Twomey. Three weeks ago, Melanie Twomey started the project with the help of the Bells Mill administration.

Gen. Twomey deployed to Afghanistan in April and is charged with training the Afghan army. While that will keep him busy enough, he also hopes to find a school near his post in Kabul and to start an exchange program of sorts with Bells Mill. He will give the booklets to the Afghani children and Melanie Twomey said that hopefully they can give him something to send back to Bells Mill that will help the American children know what life in Afghanistan is like.

“He hasn’t gotten to any schools yet, but he’s heard about what they’re like,” Melanie Twomey said to a first-grade art class on Monday morning.

“They have dirt floors and they don’t even have any art supplies,” said Juliet Twomey, Melanie’s daughter and a Bells Mill first-grader. Melanie Twomey said that many schools in Afghanistan don’t have pencils, pens and crayons.

“If they don’t have pencils or crayons then what do they write with?” asked one student. Twomey said she did not know.

“We are hoping that our students will have an exchange with the students of Afghanistan,” said Patti Goldberg, a counselor at Bells Mill who worked with Twomey to arrange the art project. “Since General Twomey informed us that the school children do not have pens, pencils, crayons or paper we are hoping for our student government to collect these items to send to them.”

THE PROJECT has been an educational experience for the children. First they were told where Afghanistan was and what life was like for Afghani children, said art teacher Tanya Shoup. Then the children started asking question about the children that they were sending the books to.

“They wanted to know what the kids look like and … how the books will get there, how the mailman carries it across the ocean,” Shoup said.

First-grader Arthur Dinsky said that he can’t imagine going to school without pencils and crayons. “I would hate it,” Arthur said.

Grace Xia wasn’t too clear on where Afghanistan was, but “I do know it’s a country,” she said as she colored in the children in her booklet.

“It’s neat being able to draw because drawing’s my favorite thing to do,” Lexi Cochran said. Behind Cochran was a television that projected the image of the Afghan flag for the children to follow in their booklets.

“I hope they get a better understanding of the world,” said Judy Solomon, a first-grade teacher at Bells Mill. “I Hope they get a sense of accomplishment from doing this.”

Melanie Twomey said that the project would be good for the Bells Mill children because they would learn generosity and kindness. She said that it would be a good experience for the children of Afghanistan too, who in their brief lives, have seen too much violence and been exposed to too much hate.

“I think this is one of the most important things we can do,” Twomey said. “The more we can show the world as a good place, the better. Instead of teaching the kids to fight, to be friends. I mean what better way to do that than this?”