SF group honors Afghan women in office

June 15, 2009 8:24:42 PM PDT
A Bay Area group that sends hand-knitted goods to Afghanistan took the dramatic step of presenting hand-knitted shawls to the women in Afghanistan's parliament in person.

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Bay Area school teacher Elsie de Laere recently presented hand-knitted shawls to each of the 91 female members of Afghanistan's parliament. The founder of San Francisco-based Afghans for Afghans recruited her to go to Kabul.

"I felt like I was asked to be an ambassador to the Afghan women and an ambassador for American women," she told ABC7.

De Laere is an Albany kindergarten teacher. She has been to Afghanistan nine times for her own humanitarian reasons, teaching Afghan teachers about child development. She speaks and understands enough of the local language to appreciate the extensive hardships in the war-torn country.

"They risk their lives, they have to pay for their own body guards; they've had to beef up their protection to get the word out and remain in parliament," she said. "The courage of the women there to keep on going is, to me, unbelievable."

The shawls were packed for the trip in April.

"We asked our Bay Area women lawmakers to write letters of greetings," said Afghans for Afghans founder Ann Rubin.

The letters were from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Lynn Woolsey, Anna Eshoo and Barbara Lee.

"We thought they would get a boost out of knowing our women here who do the same job they do are thinking of them," Rubin explained.

Rubin founded Afghans for Afghans after the September 11th terrorist attack on America, and the U.S. retaliation against terrorists based in Afghanistan. She wanted to help those caught in the middle.

"We knew there would be people in need and wanted to do something right away," she said.

The shawls for Afghanistan's female members of parliament were made by American and Canadian women who knit blankets, sweaters and children's clothes for Afghans for Afghans.

"We had been making shawls for newborn mothers and we'd seen pictures of women in Afghanistan and what they wear," Rubin recalled. "We made them really long so they can be draped over the shoulder and around the head to cover the hair."

Rubin's website has attracted knitters from all over the world over the past eight years. The contributions now fill a warehouse at the American Friends Service Committee building in San Francisco. It amounts to some 90,000 donations.

"No knitted good is wasted. Afghans for Afghans, anything that is not shipped to Afghanistan goes to different organizations here in the Bay Area," said Mary Ellen Solon with the American Friends Service Committee.

In Afghanistan, the female leaders sent a message saying they need the support of the international community and would like to meet with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.

"They asked for simple things like creating a website, maintaining a website, even printing simple business cards," said De Laere.

They even sent a gift for Speaker Pelosi that Ann Rubin hopes to present some day. For now, they will enjoy their warm gifts of friendship from Afghans for Afghans.

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