The Shinkai district governor, Noor Mohammad, addresses an audience of village elders from the Surri area of the Shinkai district in Zabul province, Afghanistan, Forward Operating Base Grizzly, March 11, 2012.(Photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Brandenburg)
SAFAR, Afghanistan (March 21, 2012) — Though its gray exterior walls must still be painted and its entrances sealed by doors, the newly constructed Safar School is a stepping stone for the growth of education in southern Helmand province’s Garmsir district.
Approximately 40 elders and 150 students met with Afghan National Security Forces and U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, to discuss the crucial role of education to the future of Garmsir during a shura here, March 18.
The expansion of education in Garmsir has been a challenging yet continuous process. Upon the arrival of coalition forces here in 2006, the government and ANSF began working with coalition forces in the northern portion of the district to strengthen its infrastructure.
As it developed, government and military influence began spreading south, leading to the security and expansion of Safar Bazaar in southern Garmsir. The buzzing bazaar — previously dominated by insurgent activity — flourished as the district’s crossroad of commerce and paved the way for the growth of education around it.
“As security in Safar Bazaar has increased, the local economy has improved and education has expanded,” said Capt. Bobby Lee, the commanding officer of India Company, 3/3, and a native of Corpus Christi, Texas.
The Safar School project follows the success of a 120-student school opened in the neighboring region of Laki in June 2011.
Over the last two years, the region has maintained a high level of security due to the influence of its elders. Their leadership enabled significant growth in Laki, including the construction of the school, a police precinct, community center, mosque and clinic.
“The Laki elders care about the long-term future of their area,” said 2nd Lt. Christian Czajkowski, the 2nd Platoon commander for India Company, 3/3, and a native of New York City. “They’ve stayed in a largely impoverished society in order to cultivate its future success.”
While there are several small, certified schools in the surrounding area, Safar School is the first built here by the local government together with the aid of coalition forces. Aside from requiring a few finishing touches, the school is a vast improvement from its predecessor, a mud hut capable of supporting only 80 students.
Standing proudly in front of the new school, Safar elder Haji Khan Mohammad spoke to the assembled crowd of men and children. He thanked his fellow elders for their support in the project and implored the young students to put their new school building to good use.
“Education is the light of prosperity in Safar,” Mohammad said. “Only through education will our children be able to pull through their poverty and illiteracy.”
Several other teachers and local government and military leaders also addressed the crowd, including Malim Wazir, the school’s head teacher.
“The Marines and our government have presented us with this building; now it’s our job to see that it’s used as a school,” Wazir said. “Every boy and every girl has the right to learn. We must ensure they receive this education.”
Once the shura concluded, ANSF leaders and 3/3 Marines presented Wazir and his teachers with myriad boxes containing pencils, notebooks and various other school supplies.
Students from Calallen High School and the Richard Millborn Academy in Corpus Christi, Texas, donated the approximately 1,500 pounds of school supplies as part of the non-profit Right to Write program, Lee said.
Equipped with a school, teachers and the tools to learn, the youth of Safar have received the means to progress in their education. Despite the availability of these resources, the advancement of education in central Garmsir will be an ongoing endeavor. This learning curve will challenge both young and old alike, Czajkowski said.
“Today’s elders hold their position because of their age,” he said. “The growth of education will test those waters of seniority. If we can help pair their seniority with a generation of education, we can only hope for increased security down the road. This change may be challenging for the elders, but it’s for the betterment of the future society.”