U.S. Kids Respond to Bush's Call

ByMichele Norris

W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 12, 2001 -- Across America today, children enthusiastically answered President Bush's call for dollars to aid the children of Afghanistan.

At C.W. Hill School in Atlanta, a line of students, money in hand, stretched outside the main office. In St. Paul, Minn., children passed a box from class to class, filling it to capacity with crumpled dollar bills.

And in Kansas City, Mo., 5-year-old Enich Hepworth decided that just one dollar would not do. Sitting at his kitchen table, he proudly tallied a stack of dollar bills, collected as he went door to door in his neighborhood. His contribution: $29.50.

Whether it was allowance, or earnings, or cash from relatives, American youngsters seemed eager to help Afghan children in a faraway land they had barely heard of until last month.

Now Afghanistan and the plight of its people are featured topics in classrooms around America. Words like "Kabul," "terrorism" and "counter offensive" are on vocabulary lists.

Plight of Kids in Afghanistan

In the war-torn country of Afghanistan, one in four children die before their fifth birthday and one in three children have been orphaned.

A 12-year-old explained through an interpreter that he has worn the same clothing for two years. With winter on the horizon, he said his family needs tents and food to survive. One grandfather said the donations are a lifeline. One dollar, he said, could feed his entire family for a day, $15 could buy a coat.

U.S. children, still rattled by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, said the dollar campaign gave them a sense of pride, providing them with some small way to make their world a better place.

"I want to go and like tell God to help them a lot because they need help," said Tiffany Rodriguez of Los Angeles.

Nia Clark, a 9-year-old student at Stevens Elementary in Washington, D.C., said she was glad to make a contribution. "They do need it more than we do, instead of us buying candy."

Classmate Robert Petteway, 11, said: "They need it more than I do, but instead of giving them one, I should give them five."

Why Not Target Needy in U.S.?

Behind the scenes, however, there are quiet grumblings about the White House dollar drive. Some point out that there are plenty of needy children in the United States. And there are concerns that children are being used in a propaganda campaign.

But school officials said they would not dare air those concerns in public, not when America appears to be swept up in symbolism.

And that symbolism was apparent today as schoolchildren across the country participated in a simultaneous recitation of the pledge of allegiance, an event organized in part by the White House. Education Secretary Rod Paige contacted more than 100,000 schools urging them to stop what they were doing at 2 p.m. ET for the pledge.

Some students recited their pledge in their classrooms, others held grand ceremonies around the flagpole, in auditoriums, often clad in red, white and blue. Many held one hand on their heart, the other raised, clutching a dollar bill.

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