By Air Force Capt. Dustin Hart
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 15, 2009 - Members of the provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province demonstrated their commitment to furthering education during a ground-breaking ceremony for the Maliki Surial girls' school in the province's Behsood district Jan. 11. The PRT-funded school, which will cost $116,000 and is expected to be completed in nine months, will feature 10 classrooms for more than 1,400 girls to attend classes throughout the year.
"Currently, the girls attend an open-air school where they sit outdoors and learn," Army Capt. Elisabeth Leon, Nangarhar PRT lead engineer, said. "When the weather turns bad, they simply can't go to school."
Army Lt. Col. Steven Cabosky, Nangarhar PRT commander, urged local people gathered at the ceremony to do their part to make the school realize its potential.
"The key to success in Afghanistan is education of all children," Cabosky said. "While this school project will help, the hard work still exists. It's up to all of you to make sure your children are able to go to school and receive an education. That is what will build a strong Afghanistan."
The ceremony featured members of the provincial government, school administration and PRT speaking about the opportunities created by the new school.
"Education is very important for girls," said Gulali Jamal Zai, Maliki Surial's headmistress. "Females are responsible for the household, and can, in turn, educate their children and husbands within the house."
Before the Taliban government was defeated in 2001, fewer than a million children – almost none of them girls -- attended school in Afghanistan. Since then, the number has grown to more than 6 million children, with 35 percent of them girls, according to NATO International Security Assistance Force statistics.
"In every district we travel to, educating the children is a priority to the leadership," Leon said to the crowd of mostly women and girls. "This school is a sign that the hopes, opportunities and dreams of Afghan females are coming true. I ask you to keep your heads high and reach for every opportunity to learn and grow."
The PRT is working with the Afghan Education Ministry on 15 boys' and girls' school projects throughout Nangarhar province. These are part of 50 projects, worth more than $70 million, that the PRT is working throughout the province.
(Air Force Capt. Dustin Hart is attached to the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)