Afghan children bid farewell

07/31/2014 6:12 PM

07/31/2014 9:09 PM

Sultan, 11, and Omar, 7, just experienced the best summer of their lives.

The boys from war-torn Afghanistan loved jumping into the water off a cliff at the Carrigan Farms rock quarry in Mooresville. They swam in Lake Norman, played with other children and got to ride new bikes.

“They rode for hours and hours,” Susan Gibbs of Huntersville said.

In Afghanistan, Gibbs said she learned from the boys, they don’t dare leave their homes for fear of being killed.

Gibbs and her husband, Howard, hosted Sultan and Omar for six weeks through the Lake Norman area nonprofit Solace for the Children.

The organization has brought children affected by war to the Lake Norman area for 18 summers. They receive medical treatment from doctors who volunteer their time and services, and they get to enjoy life with volunteer host families. They hang out with children from other Afghan tribes, which helps build peace, Solace Executive Director Patsy Wilson said.

Ten Afghan children came to the Charlotte area this summer. On Thursday, they gathered with their host families at Charlotte Douglas International Airport for the first leg of their journey back home.

They were scheduled to fly to Dulles International Airport, then to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where they expected a 14-hour layover before flying to Kabul, Afghanistan.

Before heading through security to their gate, Omar and Sultan and the other children recounted the fun they had.

“We swim and go to parties,” Sultan said. “We go to each others’ homes and play together.”

Susan Gibbs also taught them how to swim, but it was riding the new bikes that seemed to enchant the boys the most. “Dad, can we cycle?” the boys incessantly asked Howard Gibbs.

“And Dad had to sit on the porch watching them (ride) for hours and hours and hours,” Susan Gibbs said with a smile.

Soma, 11, stayed with John and Abby Steelhammer of Mooresville and their daughter, Gracie, 12, who helped Soma with swimming strokes on the lake.

“You are my sister,” Soma told Gracie moments before Soma walked to a security checkpoint with the other Afghan children.

“I love you, too,” Gracie replied.

“It’s tearing me up,” John Steelhammer said minutes earlier of Soma’s impending departure. “I’ll be a big blubbering baby.”

“She’s our sister and daughter from Afghanistan,” Abby Steelhammer said. “We love her as our own. We tried to give her the best six weeks that we could.”

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