By Air Force Capt. Tony Wickman
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 30, 2009 - Government leaders and provincial reconstruction team members here signed an agreement Sept. 27 to build five new schools in the province, and protect them for the future. Kunar Gov. Fazullah Wahidi told more than 100 gathered religious leaders, village elders and government directors that the new school in Narang district and four schools in Asadabad district represent the Afghan government's commitment to improve education.
"The time of fighting is done; now is the time for education," Wahidi said. "Education is important for everyone, because it takes people out of the darkness and into the light. We want Afghanistan children to get an education."
The governor said while the buildings are important and the first step to improving the development and security of the country, education begins when teachers teach and children learn. He also stressed it's the community council's responsibility to help with security on the projects so the contractors can do their jobs, as well as the need to protect the schools if insurgents try to damage them.
"If the Taliban come to burn the schools, we as shura members need to say first, 'Burn my home, not the school,'" Wahidi said. "These schools will give our children a place to learn and must be protected."
Sayed Jalaluddine Hasani, Kunar's director of education, said the schools represent an investment by the government in the province's people.
"With good schools, we can have the darkness go away," Udin said. "We are building these five schools to make Afghanistan better."
A Narang community council member said residents are grateful to have a new school for the district.
"We have kids learning outside under the trees and sun, but now they will have a good place to learn," the village elder said. "On behalf of the Narang shura, I thank the [provincial government] for helping bring a school to Narang."
Army Lt. Col. Joseph Cantlin, the provincial reconstruction team's chief of civil-military operations, said the signing ceremony was a happy occasion and represents the combined effort of the provincial government and the United States to make Afghanistan better.
"We've been working hard to coordinate with the governor and directors to find the most important areas to put schools, hospitals and other projects across Kunar," the Fort Belvoir, Va., native said. "It's a privilege to work with the governor and line directors to bring this happy day to build five new schools to the people of Kunar province.
"I have two children myself," Cantlin continued, "and understand how important it is to the young people of Narang and Asadabad to have the opportunity to go to a good school and learn because they represent the future of Afghanistan. My hope is for the children to learn and grow up to be good citizens of Kunar and Afghanistan."
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jay Burgess of Oklahoma City, the team's senior engineer, echoed Cantlin's sentiments.
"Nothing is as special to me in my heart as building schools," Burgess said. "The contractor said, 'God willing, we will have the schools built in 12 months,' but the real work doesn't begin until the school is finished. That is when the investment pays off, because teachers will have the opportunity and tools to invest in the children of Afghanistan. So, while we celebrate today, I look forward to the decades when the schools still exist and the students have a proper education."
The contract was signed Sept. 20; the Sept. 27 ceremony was a promise-signing agreement among the Asadabad and Narang district development associations, the provincial governor and the provincial reconstruction team to support and protect the project.
An additional benefit to the provincial economy is that the prime contractor will hire local workers to build the schools, officials said.
(Air Force Capt. Tony Wickman serves in the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team public affairs office.)