Private US groups take more active role in Afghan relief
Washington — A Connecticut-based foundation that has helped homeless children in the United States and needy people in Lebanon and Poland is now organizing aid for Afghanistan.
The Americares Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization, plans to airlift medicines and pharmaceuticals for Afghan refugees to Pakistan in August. The hope is that this will help to stimulate the giving of more aid from the American private sector.
The estimated 2.5 million to 3 million Afghans who fled to Pakistan from the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan constitute the largest refugee population in the world. By the end of the last fiscal year, the US government had contributed, through international and voluntary organizations, more than $222 million in relief aid. But American private and voluntary organizations have had a lower profile in the Afghan relief effort than that of European counterparts.
''We're just so hopeful that other relief agencies will come in,'' said Robert C. Macauley, president of Americares, who first entered the field of humanitarian relief in Vietnam in the 1960s. ''People feel that Afghanistan is so far away. They doubt that they can do anything about it. We're trying to show how something can be done.''
''There have been various private aid organizations trying to help,'' says a State Department official. ''But there simply isn't enough local interest in Afghanistan. It's not on the evening news.''
Mr. Macauley said, however, that his own interest in Afghanistan had been stimulated by newspaper reports from that nation, including, in particular, reporting from inside Afghanistan for The Christian Science Monitor by Edward Girardet.
As honorary chairman of Americares, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Carter, formally announced the Afghan airlift project at a Washington press conference Monday.
Bert Schwarz, a retired textile executive who was part of an Americares survey team sent to Pakistan, says that among the relief agencies working with the Afghan refugees, ''everybody is short of money and medicine.''
''You come back here and people say, 'The world is full of refugees. Who are these Afghan guys?' '' Mr. Schwarz continues. ''I think Afghanistan really requires some awakening in this country.''
Schwarz has had his own share of hard times. He is a World War II veteran and survivor of the Bataan death march in the Philippines. He works, as do many others, as an unpaid volunteer for Americares. The foundation has only one paid staff worker and is based in a one-room headquarters in the offices of the Virginia Fibre Corporation of New Canaan, Conn., a paper manufacturing company.
During the Vietnam war, Macauley, the company's chairman and chief executive officer, established the Shoeshine Boys Foundation, an organization which helped deserted and runaway Vietnamese children. At war's end, Macauley says, 14 homes were in operation, having cared for 2,500 children.
In the 1970s, Americares helped a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Bruce Ritter, extend the services for his crisis center for runaway children in New York City's Times Square. Covenant House runs shelters in New York, Guatemala City, and Toronto, and will open a new Houston center Thursday.
Americares prides itself on its ability to act rapidly, thus attempting to set the pace for larger organizations.