By Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 10, 2008 - A new park is setting the stage for progress in one of Afghanistan's most impoverished areas. Bamyan Valley has a rugged beauty unmatched by most of Afghanistan, but it remains one of the poorest and least-developed areas in the country.
"It is a priority of Task Force Warrior and the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team to bring more progress to the area," U.S. Army Capt. Eileen Stiffey, Task Force Warrior project purchasing officer, said.
At the provincial governor's request, a nongovernmental organization agreed to create the Bamyan Woman's and Family Park. Five acres of land, encircled by an iron fence with large wooden doors on the majestic main entrance, offers a welcoming park and economic catalyst for local citizens.
Almost all of the 275 households surrounding the park earn their living as subsistence farmers, growing small quantities of wheat and potatoes. The nearest bazaar selling fruit, vegetables and meat is more than eight miles away in Bamyan City. Because of their lack of money and their isolation, local people rarely eat anything beyond bread, yogurt, rice and potatoes.
"[Local residents] suffer the physical effects of a severely depleted diet, and often are unable to afford medical care needed in relation to this poor diet," said Capt. Katia Hayes, New Zealand PRT medical officer.
A similar project, the Woman's Park of Kabul, opened several years ago in Afghanistan's capital and demonstrated the amazing potential gardening had with women and children for healing, restoration and joy, Stiffey said.
"There is a horticultural training center at the Woman's and Family Park," she said, noting the added benefit of food production the center provides in an area where the people need nutritional improvements.
The Commander's Emergency Response Program donated more than $167,000 for the park project, Stiffey said, and the grand total for building the park was nearly $300,000. More funds are needed to complete the project, which ultimately will include a teahouse, a brick pizza oven, retail shops and the horticultural training center.
"Two more phases to hire and recruit staff, gardeners, and kitchen guides for the park depend on gaining donors," said Col. Darryl Tracy, New Zealand PRT commander.
Stiffey said local farmers are given starter plants to increase farming production. Accessible fruits and vegetables, as well as community training in small-scale gardening and cash-crop development, provide nutritional improvements and augment subsistence farming incomes, she added.
The park project addresses multiple needs in the area and creates sustainable jobs in hospitality, tourism and horticulture.
"A large number of park employees will be widows or disabled," Stiffey said. Bamyan has the world's largest population of widows, she explained. In one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world, the captain said, Bamyan has a large population suffering from disabilities caused by mine explosions.
"The entire park is wheelchair-accessible," Stiffey noted.
The park is designed to be self-supporting and self-sustaining within a year of its opening.
"The park is a project leading to more progress and development for Afghans in the area," Stiffey said, because the park acts as a hub around which other businesses and services can develop.
(Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens serves in the Task Force Warrior Public Affairs Office.)