From St. Edward’s With Love
Local Schoolchildren Send Care Package Overseas
By Barbara Gautreaux / Submitted Photos
The generosity of some local young people, their parents and friends, the New Iberia Post Office and a hometown soldier serving overseas, has been successful in generating good will between school children living in a small village in Afghanistan, and the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed in an outpost nearby.
“Operation Children Helping Children” was formed by New Iberia’s St. Edward School after U.S. Army Sgt. Robert P. Burke requested help in supplying village children with school supplies and winter clothes. During a time when families back home are filled with the spirit of giving, Sgt. Burke felt the need to give to those less fortunate, and he knew he could count on his hometown support to complete the mission.
A Soldier’s Request
Sgt. Burke is serving his second tour in Afghanistan as an Infantry leader. From the soldier’s outpost, he and his fellow soldiers would see local school children as they patrolled through their village. Sgt. Burke is the son of Barbara and Patrick Burke of New Iberia. Patrick Burke says the American soldiers would try to talk to the children as they passed through town. They see that the children have only one set of clothes that they wear every day, year-round. They see the local schools where the children receive an extremely basic education.
The children, according to Sgt. Burke, especially Afghan girls, do not interact with the American soldiers and do not want their photographs taken. However for Burke, who attended St. Edward for elementary school and graduated from New Iberia Senior High, seeing the poverty of this Middle East nation made him want to give something to the children who are caught in a hostile environment.
From overseas, Sgt. Burke recently wrote: “I have come to realize that, although there are a lot of bad people here, there are also a lot of innocent and good people.
The young children here are a perfect example of that. The children have done nothing wrong other than to be so unfortunate as to be raised in a country of such turmoil. The purpose of our project is to focus on the innocent children and help provide them basic school supplies and winter clothes. Anything at all would be greatly appreciated.”
Sgt. Burke wrote this request for help back home to his parents. They contacted the Principal of St. Edward School, Karen F. Bonin a former teacher. When Bonin heard that a former SES student wanted to help others in need, she felt that it would be a good teaching moment for all of her students. She mobilized a team to spread the word, to collect donations, to package them up and mail them to Sgt. Burke in Afghanistan.
The project was so popular with people associated with SES, that Bonin even received donations to pay all of the postage. The packages contained donated winter clothing for children and basic school supplies, whatever the children thought the village children would need or enjoy having.
According to Sgt. Burke, “The majority of the children are able to attend small local schools where they receive an extremely basic education. However, many times there are shortages of school supplies for the children. They require only basic writing supplies, such as pens, pencils, notebooks, and anything to do with writing or coloring. Also, winter is coming and most of the children have no winter clothes. They have one set of clothes that they wear year-round.”
Says Bonin, “This activity was a way to teach our students the work of mercy, of caring for those who are less fortunate than themselves. It is also a way to put into action the school motto “Living the Eucharistic Reality that we are all one in Christ.”
SES was founded as a school for black students by Mother Katharine Drexel in 1918 on land donated by her brother-in-law Edward Morrell, and she named it in his honor. Drexel would later be declared a saint by Pope John Paul II on Oct. 1, 2000. The elementary school serves students in grades Pre-K to 3rd.
“Our students are incredibly aware of others and that all people are the same in God’s eyes, so they must be the same in ours,” says Bonin. “St. Katharine, our school’s foundress, also left that legacy to us.”
Bonin says the success of Operation Children Helping Children is due to Sgt. Burke’s philanthropic spirit and compassion, along with students from CHS, the post office and the Burke family. “They also helped tremendously with facilitating the sending of the packages.”
Deliver To Afghanistan
There is no better way to describe how the 20 school children felt than to use the words of Sgt. Burke, who wrote about the delivery of the packages by him and the other members of his troop. “We tried to hand out the clothes and school supplies in a nice organized manner, girl’s clothes to the girls and boy clothes to the boys. I wanted to make sure each child had the same amount of clothing. They had other plans. They rushed me and started taking everything as fast as possible.
“At first, I thought they were being unappreciative little kids, but as soon as they got everything, they had the biggest smiles. It was so funny.”
Sgt. Burke’s letter home about the delivery of the care packages gives readers back home a glimpse of the Afghan people. He continued, “One little girl kept kissing her hand, and then she would touch my hand. I never saw a child, especially a little Afghan girl, warm up to us so much. She did it to another soldier also, but was startled for a second when she saw that he was missing a finger.” Sgt. Burke’s letter was written so his parents would be able to tell he was laughing, with breaks often for the words ha-ha in parenthesis.
“The boys would salute us saying, ‘America good. Taliban no good. Polish no good.’ They say Polish because they actually operated in this area before us. The children kept having us take their picture, and we would show them their faces on the camera screen. They were very interested. It was cute because you could see just their faces light up and they felt special, it seemed like. Then some of them would throw on the clothes we gave them, wearing a mixture of traditional Afghan clothing with an American top.
“It was cute and refreshing to do something other than just focus on the bad out there.” Sgt. Burke revealed that an adult tried to pass himself off as a child, crouching down and trying to take the small clothing, but the soldiers were aware of this “schemer.” It was obviously an interesting display of human emotion.
“Usually, the Afghan children are skittish about pictures,” says Sgt. Burke. “But hopefully you can tell from these that they are really proud of their stuff.”
Well done, Sgt. Burke.