Eight grader Alexei Allison has only spent a handful of birthdays with his mother, an army medic in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
Several of those years apart came when Allison’s mother, Karri Allison, served on multiple tours in Afghanistan. But this mother-son duo was able to work together to give back to the children of Afghanistan and, in the process, remain connected to each other despite the miles and oceans that separated them.
Alexei grew up in a single-parent household and as such, spent most of his childhood raised by his grandparents while his mother was deployed. Over the course of his mother’s career in the CAF, Allison was shuffled to five different postings: Petawawa, Greenwood, Cold Lake, Esquimalt, and Borden. Many of those years were spent without his mother around.
“My mom and I did everything together, we used to have lots of fun, she would always take me on adventures. When she was away, I missed her very much, especially at Christmas and my birthdays, and sometimes at school things, when everyone else in my class moms or dads were there. My nan and pa would be there, but I missed my mom there,” recalled Alexei.
Eventually, Alexei was sent to live with his grandparents in St. John’s, NL.
“These single family kids in the CF have long been over looked. When mom or dad deploys they are truly left and have to be extra brave, and are uprooted to family members around the country, or friends. A lot of changes, during the scariest time in their life. The true heroes, in my mind,” said Heather Allison, Alexei’s grandmother.
Alexei was only three when his mother first deployed to Afghanistan. However, he recalls the deployment made a significant impact on him.
“My nan says that every time I would see a Herc, I would point to the sky and wave and call out ‘mamma be back,’ and if I saw anyone in uniform I would say the same thing,” said Alexei.
Each time his mother was deployed, and as he grew older, he understood and became proud of the work his mother was accomplishing.
“I was really scared she would not come back this time because she was on an American FOB (forward operating base). We couldn’t Skype, and she couldn’t call very much. I would hear on the news sometimes, or people talking, about bombings and soldiers being killed. I would worry that it might be my mom. I was always afraid when someone knocked on our door. You learn pretty quick as a military kid what that means if your mom or dad is deployed.
“We knew it was important that my mom be in Afghanistan, serving our country and giving medical care to her fellow soldiers and the people of Afghanistan. My mom was proud to serve and we were proud of her and all the soldiers,” acknowledged Alexei.
Between deployments, Alexei remembers his mother would share pictures of children she’d met in Afghanistan. Sgt. Allison was deeply moved by the plight of the children she came across, feeling the need to do something for them.
“She would always say it is important that we do what we must and what we can for these kids, she would always say that,” noted Alexei.
Karri would write home to her mother, Heather, instructing her to take money from her account to buy blankets, socks, and a variety of clothes to help the children. Alexei helped his grandmother pack up the boxes and mail them.
“One night I was telling my husband that Karri could not keep this up. It was taking every dime she had after her bills where paid. Alexei over heard us and the next morning came to me with money he had saved to help his mom help the Afghan children. He was in Grade 4 at the time,” said Heather.
Inspired to help his mother help the children of Afghanistan, Alexei reached out to his teachers at school. Through the help of his classmates and the community, the “Alexei for Afghan Children Campaign,” collected coats, shoes, socks, sweaters, crayons, pencils, paper, soccer balls, anything and everything that could be useful to the Afghani children.
Allison’s grandfather’s company, Import Tool Ltd. NL, donated a framed print by a well-known artist that Alexei in turn sold to raise $800.
“He was so excited, he could buy more blankets and maybe some toys for the kids, winter was coming soon,” mentioned Heather.
In total, Allison was able to raise $3,500 in donations.
“It was not a big project like you see some people/companies fund raising dinners or rallies, it was just one Canadian soldier/mom and her son and his class, that tried to help, the best they could,” added Alexei humbly.
He hopes that one day he can travel and meet the children in the pictures that he’s helped.
“All I have is pictures. Maybe some day when there is peace I can go there, my mom always use to say that,” mentioned Alexei.
Looking back, Alexei realizes that the war has forever changed him and his family.
“Afghanistan has changed my life forever, and my mom’s. Things will never be the way they were before my mom went to war. But knowing I helped my mom help these kids, helps me get through. Knowing we made a difference no matter how small, and we did it together,” said Alexei.