By Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian P. Seymour, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 3, 2007 - Coalition mentors stationed in northern Afghanistan continue to take interest in the country's future by investing time and money in the "younger generation." An embedded training team assigned to Afghan Regional Security Integration Command North has partnered with members of the Afghan National Army's 209th Corps, 1st Battalion, 5th Kandak, to provide a better education for local children from the Balkh district.
In a construction project that supports procedures outlined in the Afghan National Development Strategy, the coalition and Afghan partnership erected a 10-room school from the ground up in the nearby village of Deh-i-Qazi.
The project, which broke ground last summer by the hands of the Jama Balkh Construction and Road Rehabilitation Co., took less than four months to complete. It was known formally as the "Deh-i-Qazi School and Bridge Project" by the coalition mentors who received, processed and implemented the town's request.
Originally, village elders and the principal of the school's previous location – on a mosque floor, or outdoors – came together and asked the ANA for a better equipped and more centralized location for a children's secondary school. The ANA then sent the request to ARSIC-N, who formally requested the project be approved by the Balkh Provincial Ministry of Education.
The ARSIC-N civil-military operations officer, Air Force Capt. Todd McDowell, requested funding from the Commander's Emergency Response Program, a program designed to enable local commanders to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction needs.
"We were eager to help the residents of Deh-i-Qazi," McDowell said. "Once we initially visited the village last spring, we witnessed their conditions firsthand. They were sitting on carpets in the shade under a tree. It was obvious that the kids were enthusiastic about attending school, and they definitely needed a permanent structure to call their own."
It is unclear precisely how many children eventually will become students at this new site, which opened today with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. It is estimated some 1,200 children reside in four villages surrounding the new facility.
The project manager, Army Sgt. Maj. David Stevens, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 5th Kandak ETT to the ANA's 209th Corps, is optimistic.
"Being able to actually learn inside a classroom verses outside with no desks, chairs or blackboards, and temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, is a tremendous step forward," Stevens said. "Also, with the new school, it is expected more children will attend school."
Guests in attendance for the ribbon-cutting ceremony were Maj. Gen. Murad Ali, ANA 209th Corps commander; Brig. Gen. Abduraf Taj, Balkh provincial chief of police; Tamoursha Faez, Balkh district governor; and several local elders and faculty members.
Ali asserted the precedent this school and others like it set for the future of Afghanistan.
"In the past, the younger generation has been taught to take up arms," Ali said. "We are now building universities and great institutions for them to learn about their culture. We must continue to make education of our younger generation a priority."
(Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian P. Seymour serves with Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Public Affairs.)