Afghan children receive solace at lake program

Faisal, 10, survived a bomb blast in his home.

Sahar, 7, permanently lost vision in her left eye when someone threw acid at her as she walked to school.

They and 16 other children from Afghanistan are spending six weeks with Lake Norman-area families this summer through the local nonprofit Solace for the Children. The organization has hosted children from Afghanistan since 2007, and other children in need since 1997.

The children are treated by doctors, optometrists and dentists who donate their time. One 10-year-old was scheduled to have his club feet corrected at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center in Mooresville.

I met Faisal, Sahar and many of the other children June 25 at Advanced Family Eye Care in Denver, where they received free eye screenings.

With them were host parents Sandy Tabor-Gray of Mooresville, Cindy Simpson of Huntersville and Rosemary Bramigk of Statesville.

"They just become an instant part of the family, and they're so grateful for everything you do for them," Bramigk told me as she waited for the child her family is hosting - Yalda, 6 - to be examined by Dr. Amanda Barker-Assell.

Yalda has 20/40 vision, it turned out, and will return home with 20/20 prescription glasses, Barker-Assell said.

The Bramigks also hosted two teenage girls from Afghanistan last summer. One wants to be president of Afghanistan and the other an obstetrician-gynecologist, Bramigk said.

"They have nothing there, but they have aspirations," she said. "And sometimes we're their only hope. They have no medical attention there."

When the bomb blew up in their home, Faisal and his family had no place to go for medical help. His father changed everyone's bandages.

Faisal still has the burn marks on his hands and feet.

Solace identifies the children only by their first names to prevent unwanted attention for them and their families once they return home.

The children visiting this summer also received free medical screenings at Lakeshore Pediatric Center in Denver.

They'll enjoy lunch, swimming and games at Carrigan Farms in Mooresville and farm games, dinner and a campfire at Triple Cross Ranch in Mooresville. They'll have an "open bounce time" with their host families at BounceU in Charlotte.

And they'll help prepare food boxes for the food pantry at Mooresville Christian Mission, calling it their "Mooresville Christian Mission Give Back Day."

For security reasons, Solace project coordinator Patsy Wilson asked that the days and times of those events not be published.

Solace has hosted children from about half of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and hopes to have children from every province eventually, Wilson said.

She hopes Solace's efforts show the Afghanistan people that America isn't the enemy.

"Just think what that does for our soldiers over there," she said.

A retired American military representative living in Afghanistan helps select the children through a network that includes the American military, NATO forces and hospitals, Wilson said.

Four children here this summer learned of the opportunity through others who'd come here before through Solace, she said.

Solace relies solely on donations, including for the $3,500 in transportation costs per child, Wilson said. Solace also pays the travel expenses of several translators who accompany the children.

Among those translating for the children was Zaman, 19, who first visited the Lake Norman area through Solace when he was 15. Solace got him treated for a tumor at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem in 2007.

"They saved my life," Zaman said of the organization.

Solace is also paying for Zaman's studies at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte.

Then he will return to Afghanistan, with one purpose, he said: To help people in need however he can.