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Spouses send school supplies to Afghanistan

When Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Rex Temple was stationed in Afghanistan on a humanitarian mission, he met an 8-year-old boy who brought new meaning to both his and his wife’s careers.

“As he approached me, I had candy in my pocket because we were handing it out to the children,” Temple said. “But he didn’t want the candy. Instead, he kept staring at my uniform. There was a pen cap sticking out.”

Temple said the boy explained that he needed a pen to attend school, yet his family was too poor to afford one. In exchange for his pen, the boy provided Temple with valuable information about where the Taliban terrorist group was moving and where they were hiding munitions, he said.

After his experience with the boy, Temple called his wife Liisa Temple, an adjunct professor at USF, and asked her to scour their house and send him any pens and pencils she could find. Since then, the couple has sent more than 1,000 boxes of school supplies to Afghanistan.

“Let’s say you have 300 pencils in a single box. You just helped 300 kids go to school,” Liisa Temple said. “Sometimes the kids even break the pencils in half, so in that case, you just sent 600 kids to school.”

Rex Temple said he has served in the U.S. Air Force for a little more than 27 years, but during his fateful June 2009 mission, he was assigned to the U.S. Army and embedded within the Afghan National Army. While in the country, he said he was amazed by the lengths the children went to receive an education. Now, he and his wife are doing what they can to help.

“Children there, especially girls, have no opportunity to get an education. The Taliban will fill squirt guns with sulfuric acid and spray females so that the scars will serve as a deterrent,” Rex Temple said. “We’re over there building schools, but sometimes they’ll get torn down or destroyed as well.”

To help meet the overwhelming demand, the Temples have begun looking to organizations in the Tampa Bay area and beyond to provide donations.

“I was so inspired, and we began to reach out in the Tampa Bay area and talk to schools and private organizations, and eventually we had 17 states sending boxes of school supplies,” Rex Temple said. “We work under Holland & Knight, which is a well-known charitable foundation.”

Liisa Temple has also brought the mission to USF, and will begin teaching an Honors College course entitled Social Media, Social Change in the spring.

“The entire course is based on this school supplies cause,” she said. “Students are going to have to attempt to create a viral video, and they’re going to have to organize a joint drive with a local school.”

Georg Kleine, assistant dean of the USF Honors College, said he approves of the course and found it “depressing” that no classes that deal directly with the war in Afghanistan have been included in the curriculum until now.

“It’s negligent that we’re living in this cocoon of ours where it’s so easy to forget that (the war) is going on and has been for a very long time,” he said. “Community service is too frequently only related to our immediate environment. I think that extending it in this direction and allowing students to acquire skills that may be transferrable to other organizations in the future is a good thing.”

The course will use novels such as “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones into Schools.” Liisa Temple said she is in the process of collecting money from the Office of the Provost to bring the novels’ author, Greg Mortenson, to campus as a guest speaker.

Mortenson, who was beat out for the Nobel Peace Prize by President Barack Obama last year, wrote the novels about his experiences building schools in remote areas of Afghanistan in an attempt to educate residents and promote peace.

Rex Temple said he experienced first hand how education truly can pave the way to peace for Afghanistan and plans to continue that mission until it is complete.

“Something about this young boy that inspired me was that he talked freely about education, and how that is the path out of poverty,” he said. “He didn’t want to be like his father and have to toil in the fields on a daily basis. Most of my Afghan soldiers were illiterate. The sooner we educate them and they take control of their own country, the sooner the soldiers will get to come home.”