MARJAH, Afghanistan – One plant of a shovel symbolically transformed a sprawling patch of Marjah farmland into a future primary school site during a groundbreaking ceremony in Marjah, Afghanistan, Aug. 9.
The ceremony was attended by Yar Mohammad Barak, the district financial minister of Marjah; Nazar Khan Taukalyar, district education director of Marjah; and Marines from 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, who provide security and stability throughout this area of Marjah.
“Having no education is like a person being blind,” Barak said.
The empty patch of dirt near Koru Chareh bazaar reflects the current status of many of the other Marjah schools currently slated to open their doors in early September.
Teachers are still being sought, along with training, capital and material for school sites. A “Field of Dreams” attitude has pervaded the mindset of the Marines, who want to see the children of Marjah receive an education.
“If you build it, they will come,” said Capt. Ethan Astor, the Marjah education officer for Regimental Combat Team 7. “We can get the textbooks, we can get the supplies. We need teachers, and we need training for those teachers.”
Although a formal school system has yet to be implemented in Marjah, Marines are adapting and overcoming, making an education possible for children in the area.
In northern Marjah, an education initiative from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, saw Marines developing and executing lesson plans for Afghan children inside classroom tents. Similar programs are underway in other areas throughout Helmand province, including Nawa.
Solidifying Marjah’s first legitimate educational system requires coordination between the Marines conducting counterinsurgency operations in Marjah, the nongovernmental organizations from Lashkar Gah and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
“This is going to be a way for GIRoA to be in every Afghan’s life,” Astor said.
A Marjah education system can also be beneficial to improving the security throughout the area.
“The local population will pull together to make the schools much safer areas. They will pressure the Taliban not to attack these areas, and that will provide them the opportunity to spread. This will be something everybody can rally around,” Astor said. “In a perfect world, the students will travel to school, get safely educated in a safe environment, and get home safely. This will be a way for GIRoA to directly plug into the people, who otherwise wouldn’t deal with GIRoA.”
Feedback from the local community has been positive, and both parents and potential students are eagerly awaiting the doors to open.
“The parents say they’ll send their kids, and the kids say they want to go. The parents have listed education as one of their top priorities, along with health care,” Astor said.
The desired end state is to have four Marjah schools, including a high school, open for session by early September, although Astor believes that most families will send their children to school at the conclusion of Ramadan.
“Schools being built are signs of progress in Marjah,” Taukalyar said.