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News | Dec. 19, 2011

Volunteers help Afghan families keep warm in winter


KABUL, Afghanistan (December 13, 2011) — Poverty in Afghanistan is more common than running water or electricity. Thousands of Afghans live in austere conditions, surviving day-to-day with limited resources. The Afghan government estimates that 42% of the country’s population lives in poverty. The winters are especially harsh. It is common for families in refugee camps to burn trash and old tires for heat.

To help Afghan families who struggle to stay warm in the winter, Operation Outreach Afghanistan is providing Afghan refugees with what are known as “fuel pucks” to keep warm and cook meals. Operation Outreach is a group of military and civilian NATO/ISAF personnel whose goal is to empower the Afghan people through compassionate humanitarian assistance.

The name “Fuel pucks” comes from their resemblance to a hockey puck. They are a recycled form of paper, cardboard and saw dust that can be used to build fires. The fuel puck project is an on-going effort that started about a month ago when Major Michael Barnett noticed the opportunity to provide more assistance to refugee camps in Kabul.
“I had seen it done at Camp Phoenix when I was there and I thought, ‘We can do that,’” he said. “We had a lot of supply, and a lot of demand, but no manufacturing means.”

Barnett quickly got to work with the Operation Outreach team, devising a plan to make fuel pucks to hand out at refugee camps and orphanages. He used scraps of PVC pipe and old furniture to make molds and utilized the self-service wood shop at Camp Phoenix to build a press.

The process is quite simple. Shredded documents from offices and saw dust from the Camp Phoenix wood shop are collected and soaked down with water. When the mixture thickens it is put into a mold, pressed to remove the water and then dried in the sun. Each fuel puck will burn for 20 to 30 minutes. They even burn hot enough to boil water.

Giving out fuel pucks compliments the humanitarian assistance mission of Operation Outreach Afghanistan very well, said Barnett. The fuel pucks provided by Operation Outreach offer a cleaner and more efficient source of heat.

“Burning old tires and trash puts a lot of pollutants into the air that we then have to breathe. This is a healthier option for everyone,” says Specialist Gabriela Martinez, who volunteers weekly to make fuel pucks.

“It’s a great way to use shredded paper that would normally end up in a trash pile somewhere, and it’s also fulfilling a need for the Afghan community,” Barnett said. “Every military compound in Afghanistan creates and destroys documents daily. Why not use what would normally be wasted to help those in need?”

The process of making fuel pucks is also something that can be handed over to the Afghan community very easily.
“It’s not hard to do, and our intent is to empower the Afghan community,” Barnett said. “Our ultimate goal is to show them how this works and give them the tools they need to sustain, and hopefully improve production.”

One of the missions of Operation Outreach Afghanistan is to improve the living conditions of children. The volunteers hope that Afghan children will see U.S. soldiers helping them and form a positive outlook on the work that troops are doing in the region.

Operation Outreach has more than 400 volunteers around Kabul. To donate school supplies or children’s clothing, go to for more information.