A test operation to provide lunch for the students of Now Zad’s Asad Souri boys and girls school was conducted, Feb. 21, by the Marines of Civil Affairs Team, 11th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8.
Now Zad is in a phoenix-like state where they will rise from the ashes of the battle damages inflicted on the city. The poverty level has affected many residents’ way of life during this transition.
“A lot of these families don’t have two or three meals a day,” said Maj. Richard Graham, the civil affairs team leader. “For most, it is just one meal at the end of the day.”
Graham had noticed that many of the school’s children would come to school hungry. In an effort to help feed their stomachs and their minds, he devised a plan to periodically offer the students lunch. Before the plan could be implemented it had to be given a test run.
The plan was to feed the 710 children that attend the school. The program is headed by the district governor of Now Zad, allowing more responsibility to be shouldered by the local leadership, ultimately developing their ability to effectively handle situations that may arise in the absence of the Marines.
“It’s going to be their program,” said Graham. “All we’re going to do is provide the funding for it.”
Food was served to the children in a buffet fashion, with large trays containing fruit, rice, bread and kidney beans being given to groups of children. The meals are intended to be healthy and well balanced.
The lunch program will also offer an incentive for children to attend school, as well as for their parents to allow them to attend.
Because of a large portion of Now Zad has received no formal education the parents do not see the benefit of sending their children to school when they can be working or helping around the house.
“When people have nothing, they have to have an incentive,” said Graham. “On their day-to-day life, there is nothing modern about it. When their primary concern is survival, the more immediate demand is that the children work instead. It is hard for them to see the long term benefits.”
Afghanistan is one of the least literate countries in the world, and out of all the provinces in the country, Helmand, which Now Zad resides in, is the least educated. The long term goal is to help bring education levels up, hopefully affecting the future development of Afghanistan through the efforts of its own inhabitants.
“There is nothing for them to be ambitious for, so hopefully by educating these children, they will see other things in the world that they can go after,” said Graham. “Through education they will gain a new perspective for life.”
The children had eaten and returned to class. Once a week, the students will be provided a good, square meal, giving a little food for thought.