By Air Force Capt. Stacie N. Shafran
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 21, 2009 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior U.S. military members, a best-selling author, and Afghan officials all were on hand for the opening of a girl's school here last week. But among the dignitaries, a 16-year-old Afghan girl stood out. Lima, a 12th-grader and top student at a Kabul high school, was allowed to travel to Panjshir with her brother to attend the opening ceremony for the Peshgur School for Girls in the province's Khenj district. She translated Navy Adm. Mike Mullen's speech from English to Dari and served as an example of hope in educating Afghan girls.
Throughout the morning, Lima spoke with many of the girls, explaining the hard work and determination she's applied toward her education.
"We must make our own decisions," she said. "Nothing is easy. My decision is to study and make a future for myself."
Lima's high school is run by Greg Mortenson, the author of "Three Cups of Tea," who has it made it his life's work to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mortenson coordinated the building of the six-classroom Peshgur School for Girls, which is managed and funded by the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team in coordination with the Panjshir director of education. It is among the team's 12 education projects, worth $2.8 million, throughout the province, including nine schools, two dormitories and a multi-purpose building that will be used as a library and laboratory.
Lima, who is fluent in Dari, Pashto, English and Urdu, is preparing for her college entrance exams. She plans to study medicine at Kabul University. Although Lima's father is unemployed and her mother is a homemaker, she said it's their support and Mortenson's vision that have helped her get to where she is today.
During the ceremony, Mullen addressed the large crowd of children, village elders and provincial leaders, including Panjshir Gov. Haji Bahlol and the provincial director of education.
"The focus of today is opening a school for our children, and our future together depends very much on our children's education," he said.
The chairman also said he brought good wishes from the American people and expressed gratitude to those who built the new school, which can accommodate 400 students. He commended Mortenson, calling him a good example for all to follow.
Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the school's entrance, the chairman distributed new notebooks to two classrooms of girls.
"The effects of Greg Mortensen's work, as well as the work of the [provincial reconstruction team], will not be seen overnight; however, their combined efforts will prove enduring for generations to come," said Army Capt. Chris Mercado, the team's operations officer.
Mercado added that education is but one area of focus in a larger effort to connect the people of Afghanistan to essential services, governance and security.
(Air Force Capt. Stacie N. Shafran serves with the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team public affairs office.)