Local pennies program recognized

September 11, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Bay Area non-profit which helps children in Afghanistan was honored by the U.S. State Department on Thursday for raising $250,000 over the past five years. It is thanks to pennies donated by Bay Area children to the Roots of Peace Penny Campaign.

Hundreds of children at the Bahia Vista Elementary School in San Rafael helped with Thursday's fundraiser. The Marin County Superintendent of Schools, Mary Jane Burke, was there to show her support.

The money goes to remove landmines, build soccer fields and fix schools for children in Afghanistan.

"On behalf of the department of state, I'd like to present this symbolic check for $25,000," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Ganyard.

Ganyard came from Washington D.C. to give the Roots of Peace Penny Campaign founders a check for $25,000 to help with the program that is really making a difference.

The money from the Roots of Peace Penny Campaign has gone to repair four schools in Afghanistan and remove landmines and create soccer fields for boys and girls.

The Penny Campaign was founded September 11, 2003.

The most recent donations went to build a new school in Mirbotcha Kot, near the Bagram military base in the Shomali plains. Nearly 300 students are attending there now.

The idea for the school happened during my trip to Afghanistan in August of 2005 as I reported on the work of Roots of Peace founder Heidi Kuhn and her daughter Kyleigh, who co-founded the Penny Campaign. They are based in Marin County.

Kyleigh saw children studying under a piece of canvas in the blazing sun and she decided the next penny campaign would build a new school.

The fundraising turned into an international project over the next year. Bay Area children raised a million pennies and in 2006, ground was broken for the school.

Shamim Jawad is the wife of the Afghanistan ambassador to the United States. She and Heidi Kuhn went back to Afghanistan in 2006 to lay the cornerstone of the new school which is named after Kyleigh Kuhn.

A grant from the U.S Dept. of State allowed Mrs. Jawad's "Ayenda Foundation" to donate $10,000 to create a soccer field and provide uniforms.

The school's paint was paid for personally by the Roots of Peace deputy director in Afghanistan, Sharif Usmani.

The children had a new school, but no desks or chairs. They sat on rugs on the floor. So, Princess Homaira Wali, granddaughter of the late king Zahir of Afghanistan, co-hosted a fundraiser with Roots of Peace in Italy. That money went to buy 300 new desks and chairs.

St. Raphael's Elementary School in San Rafael raised $1,000 to build an outdoor water fountain.

A long time supporter of Roots of Peace, Mike Grgich of Grgich-Hills Winery in Napa County, is finishing a wishing well for people to donate their change to the penny campaign.

Yet another brand new school is under construction for 600 girls in the Bamyan Province.

Bay Area schools made major donations, including Justin Siena High School in Napa, with $5,000 and San Rafael High School with $4,000. And these students are asking other Bay Area schools to help finish the girls' high school in the Bamyan Province.

I made my first Internet call to children in Afghanistan recently, using free Skype software. I was joined by members of the Kuhn family. To watch our Skype call click here.

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