By Spc. Gregory Argentieri, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 24, 2008 - With Task Force Saber paratroopers acting as a continuing liaison with schools in Afghanistan's Kunar and Nuristan provinces, a partnership that began in May is helping educate Afghan children. The partnership links children and schools in Afghanistan with children and schools primarily in the United States, Italy and Germany to provide Afghan children with pens, pencils, paper, chalk, notebooks and pen pals.
The paratroopers, from the 173rd Airborne Brigade's 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, provide updates to the partner schools on the progress of the Afghan children through pictures and letters.
"Being in the U.S., it is hard to visualize the lack of resources they have here," said Army Capt. Jay S. VanDenbos, 30, from Tahlequah, Okla., assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Battalion, 91st Cavalry. "Ninety percent of the schools are open-air schools, which are sometimes a tarp and a dirt floor. They'll have a rock that they use as a chalk board, and kids sit underneath the tarp and learn."
VanDenbos said Afghan children are eager for education. "They yearn for knowledge," he said. "Any time anyone goes on patrols, the kids are screaming to 'Give me pen; give me pen.' They don't have anything they can use to learn."
The partnership program is important because the Afghans don't have money, said Army Staff Sgt. Larry D. Gormley, 39, from Livermore, Calif., assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1-91st Cavalry. "An American school sending them paper, pens and pencils is helping to educate the Afghan people," he said. "And educated people are not the kind of people that strap a bomb to themselves and go and try to blow somebody up."
The benefit of the partnership between the schools goes both ways.
"For the American kids, it gives them a little bit of cultural awareness of the rest of the world," Gormley said. "I think the mission is great. Kids are getting school supplies, and it's improving their level of education."
Afghan teachers, who have seen their facilities destroyed over the years, are firmly behind the program and appreciate the benefits of it.
"Coalition forces are always giving school supplies to the students, and I support the coalition forces for helping the children," said Pacha Gul Aulfat, 36, an Afghan teacher. "It makes me really angry that we do not have school buildings, but coalition forces are building schools for us.
"Most of the past generations are uneducated, but my plan for the future is to teach," Aulfat continued. "I will provide the students of the next generation with an education. Now is a time for education, and all of our attention must be given to education."
The program benefits children like 10-year-old Ibrahim, who lives nearby and is spending his winter break learning English from a cook at Forward Operating Base Naray. Ibrahim said he likes school and has very good teachers. He has been attending school for only a year, but proudly says that he passed his year-end exams and will advance to the next level when school resumes.
"Whenever I get an education in the future, I would like to become a doctor or engineer," Ibrahim said. "Whenever I grow up and I become older and older, I would like to serve my country. I love my people, and this is my mission, to complete my education and serve the people of my own country."
(Army Spc. Gregory Argentieri serves in public affairs with 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.)