Such poverty isnt rare in Afghanistan. But Bamiyan has unusually good security, and that means the government could do much to help the cave people, but it hasnt, said Yasin Farid, the country director for PARSA, one of Afghanistans oldest charities. PARSA has made ministering to the cave dwellers of Bamiyan a priority.
The government has really wasted a chance here, he said.
PARSA also has worked hard to re-establish Scouting in Afghanistan. And thats how Maj. Barber and John Ferry came to the aid of the cave dwellers in Bamiyan.
In their first conversation at 3 a.m. for Barber because of the time difference Barber told John that transportation would be the hardest part of what they were discussing, but that he should go ahead with the collection, and Barber would make sure somehow that the clothes got to Afghanistan.
In early summer, John began calling schools, churches and local businesses, asking if they would host a collection bin. Then he signed up volunteers and corporate donors for things like boxes and storage, aided at times by several Scouts and Scout leaders from his unit, Scout Troop 463, in Garrett, Md., a town just outside Washington.
Johns collection effort was almost too successful, and Barber had to finally ask him to throttle back because they had about as much clothing as they could handle. There were 68 big boxes of clothes weighing nearly a ton, so much that they swamped the Ferry house, and John had to arrange for donated storage.
And they had to get all those boxes to Afghanistan.
Barber knew just who to talk with: a chaplain. Chaplains have strong networks and established channels for moving donations of various kinds into war zones.
A chaplain suggested using the Denton Project, a joint operation of the State and Defense departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development that ships humanitarian donations and equipment on a space-available basis on military cargo planes. John started the process, filling out the elaborate application form.
Still missing, however, was a local partner to clear the goods into Afghanistan. Thats when a soldier who works in Barbers building, and is part of a group of NATO troops that support Scouts in Afghanistan, suggested Barber team up with PARSA, which readily agreed.
After two sets of federal inspections, the Boy Scouts dropped the shipment at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland in December. Space was found on a plane bound for Germany on Jan. 5. A couple of weeks later, a plane had space to get the clothes to Afghanistan.
Keith Blackey, PARSAs Scouting adviser, said the group gets frequent requests to accept clothing, but ordinarily it doesnt because of the logistics involved. But the Denton Project overcame that hurdle.
Bamiyan, where PARSA has set up two schools and employs 100 women making handicrafts, seemed the perfect destination. It also had a good-sized Scouting contingent.
Scouts in Kabul helped repack some of the boxes that had been damaged in transit. Then PARSA put them on a truck for Bamiyan. When the clothes arrived, the Scouts there sorted them, packed them in 110 plastic bags, and handed out the bags in the poor communities.
And thats how Kenton Barbers modest idea and John Ferrys dogged work, and the long chain of almost accidental connections, ended.
Its like we lucked out at every hurdle, with the right people stepping forward," Barber said.
John was equally upbeat in a phone interview.
One thing I learned from this is that people care and are really willing to help with a community project, if you just ask them, he said.