Friday, January 13, 2012

Face of Defense: Marine Linguists Aid Afghan Youth

By Marine Corps Cpl. Meredith Brown
2nd Marine Expeditionary Force

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan, Jan. 13, 2012 – Two Marines here have joined forces to help young Afghans obtain an education.

Lance Cpls. Lauren Kohls and Sarah Lowe, Pashto linguists assigned to 2nd Radio Battalion in Task Force Belleau Wood, teamed up during their deployment and founded the nonprofit corporation Hayla International.

“After being out here a while, we really saw a need for education,” Lowe said. “We’ve seen kind of where this country is headed in the past however many years of war with no education, and people just not having futures and not have a chance to do something better for themselves.”

Hayla, a Pashto word for “hope,” is an endeavor designed to provide alternative education solutions for Afghan youth.

Lowe’s husband, Marine Corps Sgt. John Lowe, provided administrative assistance throughout the Marines’ deployment, and Hayla International was incorporated in Texas on July 28.

Most of the children living in Afghanistan’s Helmand province do not have the option to get an education, because in many cases it is unsafe to build a school, explained Lowe, a native of Rensselaerville, N.Y.

The two Marines’ inspiration to start Hayla International, they said, came from their passion for Afghan culture.

As linguists, Kohls and Lowe said they had a unique opportunity to learn Pashto and about the Afghan culture and lifestyle, explained Kohls, a native of Stafford, Va.

“We’re developing a curriculum to teach Afghans how to read and write in Pashtu,” said Kohls, 23. “With the language [skills] that we have, it’s something that we can provide to them, and we have native Afghans that are willing to voice over the entire curriculum for us, so that we can provide an audio book along with a written textbook to areas that don’t have access to schools.”

To accomplish this mission, the two Marines said they’ve been in contact with Playaway, a U.S.-based audio book company, working to create educational audio books for Afghan children in Pashto, Dari and Baluchi. They already have local Afghan volunteers ready to record the Dari and Pashtu portions of the project. Now, they are continuing fund-raising efforts to support project costs, Lowe said.

Since Hayla International’s inception, the Marines said, they’ve completed a humanitarian aid project as a way to gain the trust of the local people. The winter donation drive collected $1,100, in addition to many boxes of winter clothes and blankets, Lowe and Kohl said. The Marines worked with civil affairs representatives to distribute the donations.

For Kohls, education is essential for Afghanistan to progress.

“If your country is not educated, it will never progress at the rate that other countries around the world are,” Kohls explained. “That’s something that we see in Afghanistan now, compared to where we are in America. They are very far behind us.

“I also feel, especially with our ‘hearts and minds’ missions,” she continued, “if we as Americans come in to Afghanistan and they don’t have the education behind what we’re trying to give them, they’ll never understand the changes we’re trying to make or why we’re trying to make them.”

The two Marines are leaving Afghanistan soon, but they said they’ll continue to work to provide education alternatives in Afghanistan, and that they plan to return to Afghanistan to teach.

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