Soldier brings good news to James Buchanan students

October 08, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Because students at James Buchanan High School decided to help children in Maiger, a small village in Afghanistan, some Afghan students now use real paper and pencils instead of rocks to do their schoolwork.

The James Buchanan students, at the urging of Sabrina Monn-Thomas, a U.S. Army soldier and 1998 graduate of the school, collected about $1,000 in cash and enough basic school supplies, clothes and toys, including soccer balls, to fill 50 boxes for the war-torn children of Maiger.

On Tuesday morning, Monn-Thomas, Peggy Stoner, a social studies teacher who organized the campaign, and an auditorium full of sophomores, juniors and seniors heard U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th, read a commendation that he entered into the Congressional Record lauding Monn-Thomas and the students for their hard work.


There wasn't enough room in the auditorium for the freshmen, so they watched Shuster's presentation on television screens in their homerooms.

Monn-Thomas showed slides of photos she took of kids who got the boxes, plus other pictures of the country that became the first battleground in the war on terrorism, a war Shuster called "World War III."

Monn-Thomas served with the Army's 109th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, a unit that covers the war in Afghanistan for the Armed Forces Network. She came home in August when her enlistment was complete.

Today she works in the consumer loan department of a bank in Chambersburg, Pa. She is married to Jason Thomas, a U.S. soldier stationed in Okinawa.

Among Monn-Thomas' duties in Afghanistan was escorting foreign correspondents, a job that took her up to the fighting. She showed several photos of herself armed and in combat operations.

She contacted Stoner, her former teacher, last year by e-mail and posed the idea of James Buchanan students adopting the village of Maiger.

She returned to the school Tuesday to thank the students and Stoner for their help. Stoner, who is on medical leave, was in the auditorium.

Monn-Thomas, who served in Bosnia for nine months before being assigned to duty in Afghanistan, laced her slide presentation with anecdotes about life in Afghanistan. She said the population of the village is 500 to 1,000, a rough estimate since a census never has been taken in Afghanistan.

"It's a very poor country," she said.

A large tent donated by UNICEF serves as a school building. The students sit on the floor. She showed a photo of a grizzled old Afghan man, whom she said was the school principal. One photo showed him with a stick in his hand surrounded by school boys. He would swat any who got out of line, Monn-Thomas said.

"That's how things are done there," she said.

Afghan girls are not allowed to show their faces in public. Boys and girls have separate schools. Conditions in the boys' schools are better than the ones for girls in keeping with the customs of the Muslim country, she said. Boys and girls drink from separate wells. Boys are taught English; girls are not.

"It's totally wrong," she said. "They're suppressing a whole gender."

If children received even a pencil from the James Buchanan care boxes, "it made their year," she said. They use slate rocks for paper and white rocks for pencils.

"They didn't know what toothbrushes were for. They thought dental floss was fishing wire," Monn-Thomas said.

"The soccer balls were a big hit," she said.

People in the village drink water from the same stream in which they bathe and wash their clothes, she said.

Another photo showed some Afghan girls asking her questions.

"They'd never seen a woman with a weapon before," she said.

The girls wanted to know what living in America was like and what it was like for a girl to have a boy just for a friend, she said.

In his remarks, Shuster said the James Buchanan students are doing an amazing job in Afghanistan in a project that Monn-Thomas brought to life.

"It's a classic example that shows America at its best and the compassion and goodness of its people," Shuster said.

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