By Navy Lt j.g. James Dietle
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 9, 2009 - Education has become a key focus for the provincial reconstruction team here, which has mapped out a construction plan estimated at $15.9 million to build 58 schools along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. "The PRT believes education plays a vital role in rebuilding Afghanistan," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rob Ross, the PRT engineering officer in charge.
The PRT inspected the groundwork June 2 for the first school in the village of Tornaou in Kunar's Chowkay district.
Though Kunar province is one of the most volatile areas in eastern Afghanistan, the PRT plans to start construction of the 58 schools before the end of the year.
The Tornaou Village School holds a special significance to the members of PRT Kunar for several reasons.
"The Dewaygal Valley road was just completed in February, and it has given us the chance to bring development further up the valley," Ross said. "We are continuing to build on our previous successes."
PRT Kunar has worked closely with the Kunar Department of Education and local district governors to prioritize the 58 locations where schools should be built to provide education for as many children as possible.
With each school housing about 300 students, the 58 schools to be built during the school surge are expected to bring education to almost 18,000 students in Kunar. The school at Tornaou is the first school in the effort.
"Right now, Kunar's education infrastructure is in need of some help," Ross said. "Many villages do not have school buildings within walking distances. It is not uncommon to see children studying under the village tree. Extremes in weather can easily prevent classes from being held in these unsheltered areas. With the construction of these new buildings, children will have a place to learn every day, rain or shine."
As with all PRT projects in Kunar, a local Afghan construction company is contracted to build the Tornaou Village School. The company uses labor from the village, which creates better job opportunities and allows villagers to show pride in their work, Ross said.
Since rich farmland is scarce throughout the Dewagal Valley, the school will have a unique two-story design. This design minimizes the footprint of the school to save valuable land that is better suited for farming. When complete, it will be the tallest building in the small village. More than 300 boys and girls will be able to receive primary education at the facility.
"By increasing education, we can raise the quality of lives for these children and families," Navy Cmdr. Murray J. Tynch, Kunar PRT commander, said. "We look forward to the time when the children of Kunar will all have the chance to be engineers, teachers and doctors."
(Navy Lt j.g James Dietle serves with the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team in the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)