A group of boys play the Australian Circle Game during a cultural diversity youth shurah conducted June 23, 2012, at Combat Outpost Pinach. (Photo by Sgt. Andrea Merritt)
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (June 29, 2012) — Female Engagement Team members with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, helped 40 Afghan youth expand their knowledge of the world through a cultural diversity youth shurah conducted June 23, 2012, at Combat Outpost Pinach.
Each week, children from the surrounding area gather at the COP to learn about various cultures through presentations given by the FET and participate in arts and crafts and sports sessions that coincide with the day’s lesson.
“The goal is to promote international awareness among youth through sports and crafts to lay the necessary foundation to create tomorrow’s global citizens,” said U.S. Army Cpl. Isidra Reyna, the FET non-commissioned officer in charge for Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment.
“We hope to create an atmosphere of global empathy and understanding of cultural similarities and differences,” Reyna added. “And, of course, to have fun.”
Last summer, the cultural support team that operated in the area ran a similar program where they would bring children onto the campH to play sports like cricket, basketball and soccer.
Since the initiative was such a success, the FET decided to bring it back, but they added a different spin to it.
“The commander liked our idea of a culture class, then we expanded it to include sports and crafts and games dealing with a specific country,” explained Reyna, a native of Valley Center, Calif.
The program provides the children a break from their daily lives and an opportunity to continue learning while they are on break from school.
In previous weeks, the youth, who range from ages 5 to 12, learned about Mexico and China; but this week’s lesson focused on the wonders from down under, in the world’s only country and continent – Australia.
After seeing pictures of people, animals and landscape unique to the region, the children constructed paper bag puppets then played games that are common among children in Australia.
Since starting the program three weeks ago, the FET has seen a tremendous growth in interest, which at times is bittersweet because they can only let a certain number of children onto the COP to participate.
“We had 80 children show up this morning, 60 last week, and 32 the first week,” said Lewisville, Texas, native, U.S. Army Spc. Andrea Weatherman, FET member with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. “More kids are coming and it’s great, but we also feel bad because we can’t let them all in. One kid started to cry this morning because he couldn’t get on.”
In addition to gaining popularity among the local children, the program has also caught the attention of Afghan leaders in the area.
The district sub-governor has expressed his desire for the FET to translate the lesson plans and share them with local teachers so they can teach it in schools.
“(Our FET) are not restricted to engaging only women and children,” said Capt. Heather Disilvio, FET officer in charge for 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. “They work with the male leadership to get their foot in the door, which is notable in our own brigade because they can reach more people.”
Just as the event has become a hit with the local youth, it has also become something that the FET, interpreters, and other volunteers within the unit look forward to each week.
“It’s a nice break from going out on patrols, being around the children and just having fun,” said Tahlequah, Okla., native, U.S. Army Pfc. Blake Adair, a forward observer with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment.
As the program came to a close for the day, the children lined up and said goodbye in the Aboriginal language as they were taught at the beginning of the class.
Although exhausted and covered in sweat from playing such games as Stick in the Mud, the Australian version of freeze tag, they left with a greater knowledge of how children in other parts of the world live and play.
For some children, learning about different cultures has inspired them to continue studying about the world on their own.
“I am interested in getting on the Internet and learning more,” said 12-year-old Mohammed. “I knew it was a big world and that there are a lot of different people in it.”