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NEWS | June 17, 2011

NTM-A making a difference at local schools

By G.A. Volb , NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – Children in Afghanistan, especially young women, routinely risk their lives in search of an education.

Reports of schools being burned to the ground, female students attacked with toxic chemicals and teachers killed are common enough here that most schools employ Kalashnikov-toting security.

Locally, many schools are housed in buildings without electricity,  running water, proper windows or doors; some structures are riddled with bullet holes with large sections either missing or on the verge of collapsing.
Since the U.S. arrived a decade ago, however, more than 2.5 million children have returned to school, ensuring what was once a fantasy for many is now a reality.

NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan’s logistics’ directorate has helped turn things around. Support of their quest for an education includes renovating such dilapidated facilities and providing school supplies to the young boys and girls who can now attend school. Bibi Morrow, located only a few minute’s drive from Camp Eggers, was one such recipient.  Home to nearly 2,500 children each day in four shifts, what was once solely attended by boys is now open to young girls as well.

Prior to the U.S.-lead intervention a decade ago, the thought of women attending school was mere fantasy. Today, according to Army Lt. Col.  Michael Smith, there’s hope for the youth of Afghanistan who want to attend school as coalition, local police and Kabul based businesses team up to improve the conditions at schools.

“Under the Taliban, only boys were able to attend school here,” said the school’s headmaster Hassina Zohaib, who has been teaching for 32 years.  “It’s very difficult for me to put into words … but prior to the renovation, all the students had no supplies, and many had to learn outdoors due to lack of facilities. But, they are very happy now, with nice classrooms, supplies and even air-conditioning systems.”

The success Zohaib’s school has enjoyed recently is the result of not only NTM-A involvement but also local businesses and police organizations.

“The businesses understand the future of Afghanistan starts with eliminating the high national illiteracy rate,” said Smith, ANTM-A’s deputy director for Afghan National Police support. “The two contractors involved with these particular projects are no different than businesses back home donating to the local community to provide better opportunities for Afghan’s children.”

Brig. Gen. Ahmad Rashad Mahboob, commander of the Afghan Ministry of Interior’s Support Command, personally handed out some of the new school supplies to the children. He agrees with others involved in such projects, that the children are the future of the country.

“Education is a priority for Afghanistan,” said Mahboob. “It’s my hope this school is one of the best in the future. Education is extremely important for the police and their families. And their families will know the education they’re receiving and the supplies provided were offered by NTM-A, local businesses and the police. It’s important that they know the community is supporting them.”

The project, now a Commander’s Emergency Response Program sponsored event, began when Smith’s daughters and their friends wanted to put together a school supply drive for some Afghan children; they named it “Project Kabul.”

“They raised over 200 boxes of supplies from San Antonio and shipped to us for delivery,” said Smith. “After we visited the school and saw the harsh conditions the children had to endure, my team wanted to do more than just hand out school supplies.”

Efforts to refurbish schools make use of CERP money available through USFOR-A.  Bibi Morrow School benefited from $30,000 used to renovate the facilities, plus the local businesses participated. In all, said Smith,  some $11,000-plus in school supplies were donated – the first major renovation cost $65,000 which included $30,000 from the coalition and another $35,000 from two Afghan businesses.

“If approved, the next three schools will require much more renovation, ranging from $110,000 to $450, 000,” said Smith.

Smith and his team to, which includes local businessmen and police organizations, hope to provide a safe environment for school children.

“When these four schools are complete, more than 14,000 children in Kabul will enjoy the benefits,” he said. “Our second focus is to ensure our police counterparts engage with their local community so the population sees police officers volunteering to help the children of Afghanistan. These projects also provide an opportunity for both kids in the U.S. to learn how to do philanthropic projects and for soldiers serving in Afghanistan the opportunity to help the local population.”