U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team paid a special visit Dec. 15 to the Ghazni City orphanage to dedicate playground equipment donated by the family and friends of Steven Thomas Stefani of Auburn, Calif.
Other attendees at the dedication were Ghazni Provincial Gov. Musa Khan, Polish Ambassador Maciej Lang, and Polish Brig. Gen. Andrzej Reudowicz, Task Force White Eagle commander.
While working for the U.S. Forest Service in Wells, Nev., Stefani discovered the opportunity to take a nine-month assignment as a U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service advisor, helping the people of Ghazni Province develop and implement agricultural projects.
On the desolate hills of Afghanistan, one can’t be blamed for wondering how anyone could possibly make a living in such a place. Stefani was here to help the Afghans with just that. One of his many programs taught hundreds of women to raise poultry. He also helped to improve the grape production in the province, worked to get a cold storage facility built and planned for a sorely-needed tree farm. He raised the hopes of the inhabitants in this conflict-torn region that the future could be better for their children.
When he found the Ghazni City orphanage had been so torn apart due to conflict that they didn’t have a playground, toys or even soccer balls to play with, it tore at his heart. He contacted his family and friends back home asking them to contribute to this new project.
Tragically, just as the plan was developing, Stefani’s convoy, returning from another mission, was hit by a roadside bomb and the 28-year-old’s life was cut short, devastating his family and friends.
His family, knowing how Stefani hated to leave a project unfinished and wanting him to be remembered for something more than the way he died, decided to carry out his vision of a playground for this orphanage. They accepted donations in Stefani’s name to cover the cost of the playground equipment and shipping it to Ghazni Province.
Today, Ghazni is still a dangerous province beset with insurgent activity and roadside bombs. Getting the equipment here was a complicated matter plagued with delays, but PRT members stood ready to get the playground ready for use as quickly as possible once it arrived.
The orphanage is a fulltime home to 45 children and hosts a total of 120 children for the school day. It is led by orphanage director, Mir Ameenullah, and staffed with seven teachers and an administrator.
Stefani worked as a U.S. Department of Agriculture advisor to a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghazni Province from March 2007 until his death from a roadside explosion Oct. 4 of that same year.