News: Afghanistan women's dorm project will benefit record numbers seeking education
Story by William Dowell
HERAT, Afghanistan - Many Afghan women easily remember being denied a basic education under Taliban rule little more than 12 years ago, but they are now attending school and college in record numbers.
Herat University officials recently announced a huge milestone – 50 percent of applicants who took the Kankor, or entrance, examination were women. To help accommodate these growing numbers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees are overseeing construction of a women’s dormitory for university students, an important step for women’s rights in Afghanistan.
The project is being funded by International Security Assistance Forces’ Regional Command—West under the Commander's Emergency Response Program. Projects under this program can only be authorized if it benefits the Afghan people and it enables commanders to make a quick, positive impact.
University Chancellor Mohammad Nazir said through an interpreter the dormitory is a big solution. He said a short time ago, several families from another province left his office in tears because they didn’t have a place for their daughters to stay while attending university – now he has a good answer for them.
“Once word gets out Herat University has a female dormitory, families from all over the country will be really happy and their daughters will attend Herat University from other provinces all over Afghanistan,” Nazir said through an interpreter. “It will be very good for all the students around the country.”
The three-story dormitory will house 372 students, bunked four to a room. The structure includes locations for study areas and computer labs on each floor. A separate, attached building will house a library with additional study and computer areas.
The Corps’ Transatlantic Afghanistan District, or TAA, has a project manager, project engineer, construction representative and Afghan quality assurance representative, or AQAR, overseeing the project. The AQAR, Eraj, is typically on site daily, providing reports, photos and ensuring Corps quality is being met. Project engineer Mitch Thomas and construction representative Rich Walton also make regular site visits.
For all Afghanistan projects, Corps officials act as construction agents, meaning they’re tasked and funded by other agencies to oversee construction. Once an agency, like the regional command for this project, identifies a need and receives authorization and funding, the Corps is tasked to build the project. Corps employees contract and oversee construction in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulations and sound Corps of Engineers construction processes.
The education benefits for this project go beyond just providing a dormitory. Abdullah Foushanji, president of Poushang Construction Company, which won the contract to build the facility, is bringing Herat University engineering students onboard in an off-the-cuff intern program.
“Studying in the field will be better for learning,” said Herat University engineering student Mohammad Vafir, who is currently working with Poushang Construction. “I’m getting lot of knowledge by being here working for this company. It is so useful for me.”
Although not required, Foushanji is paying Vafir, a senior at the university. Vafir went on to say he is grateful for the opportunities the construction company, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. has given him.
“Education is the foundation for moving forward in society,” said TAA South Area Office officer in charge Lt. Col. John Connor. “This women’s dorm gives the Afghan female population an opportunity to move it forward much faster and with a more balanced, maturing perspective.”
“Herat has been a cultural crossroads for a long time. I can’t think of a better opportunity for the people of this region to truly prosper. This project alone symbolizes the very hope that most of us take for granted and that the people of this region have committed to. I will be following their progress for a long time after I leave Afghanistan,” he added.
Herat University offers more than 13 degree programs including engineering, journalism, medicine and veterinary science.
The project was started in August 2013 and TAA took over construction oversight in February 2014. It is on schedule for completion in December.