Last week, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team visited the Ghazni City orphanage to dedicate playground equipment donated by the family and friends of Steven “Tom” Stefani. Stefani was a U.S. Forest Service employee who went to Afghanistan in March 2007 to work as a USDA agricultural expert to a provincial reconstruction team in the Ghazni. His life was cut short by a roadside explosion Oct. 4 of that same year.
During his time in Afghanistan, Stefani had planned to build a playground for the children of the Ghazni City orphanage. Stefani had started to ask family and friends for donations to bring joy to an orphanage that had been affected by the conflict in the region. Sadly, this project was cut short by Stefani’s untimely death, but his family, friends and USDA employees vowed to complete the project, in honor of Tom.
Last week that dream became a reality. Ambassador Eikenberry, the Senior Deputy Civilian Representative for USDA, the Polish Ambassador to Afghanistan and the Afghan Minister of Labor and Social Affairs joined the governor and several province-level officials for the dedication of the playground equipment. They were greeted by dozens of children who had dressed up for the occasion and presented flowers to the officials. According to USDA officials, the children were awe-struck and overjoyed that such a big and colorful object was being installed in their drab and dusty yard. After speeches and remarks, Ambassador Eikenberry took the first slide, and was promptly followed by 40 gleeful kids! The delegation also paid a visit to the recreation room on the U.S. base in Ghazni, which was named in honor of Tom Stefani.
In January 2010, Secretary Vilsack joined Ambassador Eikenberry at the U.S. Embassy Kabul for a recognition ceremony of Stefani’s work in Afghanistan. During the ceremony, the Secretary offered these words: “Like so many other dedicated USDA employees, Tom requested to serve in Afghanistan because he wanted to work to improve the lives of the Afghan people who live in this great country, people who have suffered through years of strife and conflict. While some people saw only denuded grazing lands and wasted soil in Afghanistan, Tom recognized the opportunity to restore a once legendary agricultural region. He accepted his responsibility to serve as he had so many other challenges in his life -- he embraced it in a great, big bear hug.”
To learn more about USDA’s work in Afghanistan, visit www.usda.gov/afghanistan.