Afghan students prepare for future through education

By Spc. Gregory Argentieri , 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs

Afghan students in Naray hold up school supplies received through the school partnership program.  Most of this regions population is under 15, and 47% of this region are school age kids, according to Army Capt. Jay VanDenbos, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment. Afghan children lack basic school supplies. (U.S. Army Photo by Capt. Jay Vandenbos)
Afghan students in Naray hold up school supplies received through the school partnership program. (U.S. Army Photo by Capt. Jay Vandenbos)

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Jan. 23, 2008) — The future of Afghanistan lies in the hearts and minds of its children, therefore, Task Force Saber Paratroopers act as a continuing liaison for a school partnership program between American and Afghan schools in Kunar and Nuristan Provinces.

The partnership links children and schools in Afghanistan with children and schools primarily in the U.S., Italy and Germany to provide Afghan children with pens, pencils, paper, chalk, notebooks and also pen-pals. 

The 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment Paratroopers are also providing updates to the partner schools on the progress of the Afghan children through pictures and letters. 

“Being in the U.S., it is hard to visualize the lack of resources they have here,” said Army Capt. Jay S. VanDenbos, 30, from Tahlequah, Okla., assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1-91 Cav. “Ninety percent of the schools are open-air schools, which are sometimes a tarp and a dirt floor.  They’ll have a rock that they use as a chalk board, and kids sit underneath the tarp and learn.”

“Most of the kids want to learn. They yearn for knowledge,” said VanDenbos. “Anytime anyone goes on patrols, the kids are screaming to ‘give me pen, give me pen.’  They don’t have anything they can use to learn.” 

“The partnership program is important because the Afghans don’t have money,” said Army Staff Sgt. Larry D. Gormley, 39, from Livermore, Calif., assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1-91 Cav. “An American school sending them paper, pens and pencils is helping to educate the Afghan people, and educated people are not the kind of people that strap a bomb to themselves and go and try to blow somebody up.”

The benefit of the partnership between the schools goes both ways.

“For the American kids, it gives them a little bit of cultural awareness of the rest of the world,” said Gormley.  “I think the mission is great, kids are getting school supplies, and it’s improving their level of education.”

The Afghan teachers of the schools, who have seen their facilities destroyed over the years, are firmly behind the program and appreciate the benefits of it.

“Coalition forces are always giving school supplies to the students and I support the Coalition forces for helping the children,” said Pacha Gul Aulfat, 36, an Afghan school teacher.  “It makes me really angry that we do not have school buildings, but Coalition forces are building schools for us.”

“Most of the past generations are uneducated, but my plan for the future is to teach.  I will provide the students of the next generation with an education,” said Aulfat.  “Now is a time for education, and all of our attention must be given to education.” 

Ultimately, all of the effort put into the program is for the children, like 10-year-old Ibrahim, who lives nearby and is spending his winter-break learning English from a cook at Forward Operating Base Naray.

Ibrahim says he likes school and has very good teachers.   He has been attending school for only a year, but proudly says that he passed his year-end exams and will advance to the next level when school resumes. 

“Whenever I get an education in the future, I would like to become a doctor or engineer,” said Ibrahim.  “Whenever I grow-up and I become older and older, I would like to serve my country.  I love my people, and this is my mission, to complete my education and serve the people of my own country.”

The school partnership program began May 2007.