Wife of brigadier jumps from 10,000ft to help street children in Afghanistan
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent

(Filed: 17/09/2006)

The wife of the commander of British troops in Afghanistan is spearheading a fund-raising campaign to help the street children of Kabul.

Sophie Butler, whose husband Brig Ed Butler is fighting a war against the Taliban in the southern Helmand province, personally raised 8,000 for the Aschiana charity by taking part in a tandem parachute jump from 10,000ft.

Sophie Butler during her parachute jump

Mrs Butler, 43, a mother of two, hopes to raise 20,000 for the charity, which provides some of the estimated 50,000 children forced into slave labour in the Afghan capital with the chance of an education.

The total collected currently stands at 15,000 after Mrs Butler wrote to all of the commanders of units in 16 Air Assault Brigade, asking them for help.

In response, troops in Lashkar Gah, in Helmand, organised a sponsored team marathon around the perimeter of the camp, soldiers' wives and children arranged raffles and barbecues and soldiers serving with the 1st Bn Royal Irish Regiment, which has 100 troops fighting in Afghanistan, raised 1,000 by weeding pathways on a military estate in Inverness where the unit is based.

The British are in Afghanistan to get rid of the Taliban and to give the Afghan people a better quality of life.

Mrs Butler, who described her recent parachute jump at Wattisham airfield in Suffolk as "terrifying and exhilarating", told The Sunday Telegraph: "It has been a very difficult time for the families because of the casualties and the news has often been very bad, but everybody involved in the project has been very enthusiastic. The response was amazing, especially from young children who really wanted to help.

"I also think that many of the families felt a real connection with what our husbands are trying to achieve in Afghanistan. They have all shown a tremendous spirit and determination to raise money."

She added: "My husband has visited the charity and seen the great work it is doing with children, some of whom are as young as six. Many still work so that they can feed themselves, but the charity gives them some sort of education and allows them to have a childhood for a few hours a day."

Aschiana, which means "the nest", provides support, food, education and a refuge to 10,000 street children.

However, its main centre in Kabul faces closure because the land on which it sits has been sold for 3 million to a Western property developer building a five-star hotel. Kabul is in the grip of a housing boom which has seen the price of land soar to levels comparable with those in Western cities.

Anyone wishing to donate money to the charity can do so via the website www.aschiana.com (external - login to view)