Popcorn, slushies and tunes: American soldiers and volunteers give Afghan refugees in Germany a taste of America

Afghan children wave four fingers during an English lesson led by volunteer teacher Morgan Guinn at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kasierslautern, Germany on September 23, 2021. The army facility accommodates 5,400 people evacuated from Afghanistan until flights to the United States resumed. (Karin Zeitvogel / Stars and Stripes)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – Cries of children howling with joy arose from a large tent that had been transformed from a dining hall to a party place on an autumn evening in the Rhine munitions barracks.

A DJ played Afghan and American tunes, a machine spat bubbles, disco lights threw out pops of color, and kids lined up for fresh popcorn and slushies that didn’t quite look quite right. frozen, provided by the USO.

Sgt. Michael Daniels, a chief firefighter with the 23rd Ordnance Company in Grafenwoehr, Bavaria, who worked with the 5,400 evacuees from ROB, woke up the crowd as DJ Corey Mackey sorted out some electrical and WiFi issues.

“I do this because I love children and I love having the opportunity to share joy with them,” Daniels said.

“I know they went through a difficult situation and that I want to allow them to be children again, to have fun, to dance,” he said before walking to the end of the tent. , clapping and shouting, “Hey! Let’s go!” as a group of children followed him.

Afghan children participate in an English class led by volunteer teacher Morgan Guinn at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany on September 23, 2021.
Afghan children participate in an English class led by volunteer teacher Morgan Guinn at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany on September 23, 2021 (Karin Zeitvogel / Stars and Stripes)
An Afghan child runs to an English class after being cleared through a makeshift door at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks on September 27, 2021.
An Afghan child runs to an English class after being cleared through a makeshift door at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks, September 27, 2021. (Karin Zeitvogel / Stars and Stripes)
An Afghan girl writes on a whiteboard during an English class at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany, September 23, 2021.
An Afghan girl writes on a whiteboard during an English class at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany, September 23, 2021. (Karin Zeitvogel / Stars and Stripes)

ROB’s joy contrasted sharply with the situation in Afghanistan, where in the six weeks since the Taliban returned to power, music and dancing have been severely limited.

Schools have reopened, but the future of girls’ education remains uncertain. Food is so scarce that the UN and aid agencies warn that many Afghans could starve as winter arrives and the country’s economy is on the verge of collapse.

“Getting out of Afghanistan was very difficult – the Taliban were everywhere and we had to cross a canal full of trash – but now we have opportunities and we are with friends,” said an Afghan father who has been at ROB for a month. .

Flights from foreign bases to the United States were temporarily halted last month after some evacuees were diagnosed with measles. They could resume over the Columbus Day weekend, Lt. Col. Will Powell, spokesman for the 86th Airlift Wing, said in a statement to Stars and Stripes.

As Afghans wait to move on, they are introduced to aspects of American life – things like popcorn, slushies, and different ways of doing things, like teaching.

“In Afghanistan, some teaching methods are too difficult for the children,” said the Afghan father, who worked as an interpreter for US troops in Afghanistan. Army personnel demanded that he not be identified to protect his family and colleagues still in the country.

“But the way the teachers here on ROB teach is the way they teach in the United States, so our kids will learn good things,” he said. “And American teachers are so nice. The teachers in Afghanistan, most of them are very good and kind, but some of them beat the children and yell at them.

An Afghan girl shows another girl's bingo card during a game hosted by American Red Cross volunteers for refugees temporarily housed at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany, September 24, 2021 .
An Afghan girl shows another girl’s bingo card during a game hosted by American Red Cross volunteers for refugees temporarily housed at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany, September 24, 2021 . (Karin Zeitvogel / Stars and Stripes)
Volunteer teacher Morgan Guinn, second from right, and one of her Afghan students, Heri, right, lead other evacuee children to an army tent at the Rhine munitions barracks for lessons in English, September 23, 2021.
Volunteer teacher Morgan Guinn, second from right, and one of her Afghan students, Heri, right, lead other evacuee children to an army tent at the Rhine munitions barracks for English lessons, September 23, 2021 (Karin Zeitvogel / Stars and Stripes)
An Afghan girl is seen in a screenshot from a video, dancing to music at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany, September 30, 2021.
An Afghan girl is seen in a screenshot from a video, dancing to music at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany, September 30, 2021 (Karin Zeitvogel / Stars and Stripes)

Behind him, enthusiastic children ran to two large army tents where the lessons are taking place. In a tent, American Red Cross volunteer Yuki Hwong introduced the children to puppet shows and bingo games.

“We saw that the kids really needed to play,” Hwong said. “We work to help them express their emotions and what they are going through, to deal with the trauma and stress of their situation.”

After the puppet show was over, Morgan Guinn taught the children English and Faiza Nguyen sang songs and told stories in the tent next door.

English teacher Morgan Guinn, right, works with three Afghan boys during a writing class at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany, September 27, 2021. Volunteers and soldiers showcase the 5,400 Afghans who are temporarily housed at ROB at Aspects of American Life.
English teacher Morgan Guinn, right, works with three Afghan boys during a writing class at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany, September 27, 2021. Volunteers and soldiers showcase the 5,400 Afghans who are temporarily housed at ROB at Aspects of American Life. (Karin Zeitvogel / Stars and Stripes)
Volunteer teacher Morgan Guinn, center, leads an English course for Afghan refugee children at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany on September 23, 2021, with help from Tammy Cortez-Janes, at rear left.  About 5,400 people who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country in August are staying at the ROB until flights to the United States resume.
Volunteer teacher Morgan Guinn, center, leads an English course for Afghan refugee children at the Rhine Ammunition Barracks in Kaiserslautern, Germany on September 23, 2021, with help from Tammy Cortez-Janes, at rear left. About 5,400 people who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country in August are staying at the ROB until flights to the United States resume. (Karin Zeitvogel / Stars and Stripes)

The girls would sit next to the boys and sometimes outnumber them. Military beds served as desks or seats. Whiteboards, pens and erasers were handed out at the start of Guinn’s class and collected at the end, ready for the next students.

The children imitated Guinn’s tone and gestures when she taught them to count and write numbers from one to five. Edris, 13, helped keep the class under control. He wants to move to California and become a doctor, he said. Several other ROB teens have said they want to join the U.S. military when they grow up.

In another part of the camp, dozens of men gathered for an English lesson, given by an Afghan who had worked as an interpreter for US forces. Separate courses are organized for women.

Today’s class focused on pronouns and enriched male vocabulary.

“We are students,” they chanted in unison after their teacher.

“We are refugees,” they then said, hesitating briefly, as if they didn’t fully understand the word or the situation they have found themselves in since they fled the Taliban more than a year ago. month.

Karin Zeitvogel



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