FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan – It’s said that education is power and nowhere is that truer than in Zabul province, Afghanistan, where for a time the Taliban controlled the populace by means of intimidation which included preventing people there from working at, or having their children attend school. The end-result was an undereducated, illiterate people who were powerless to prevent their schools from being under-populated, underfunded and undermanned, which in-turn allowed the Taliban to control the dissemination of knowledge – and therefore power – in Zabul province.
Master Sgt. Joel E. Fix, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, of Fort Belvoir, Va., who oversaw the Radio Literacy program during his deployment to Zabul, said that 80% of the population of Zabul province is illiterate.
“Radio Literacy’s purpose is to instill in the local populace a desire for education; to push them to demand more education from their government and therefore lead to legitimacy in their government,” said Fix.
“Radio Literacy is not a replacement for schools and education. [It] is not meaning to teach people to be fluent speakers, writers and readers of Pashtu,” Fix said.
“Radio Literacy allows us to overcome the intimidation efforts, or other barriers, to education for women and children, especially girls,” said Fix. “The conceptual idea is that over the course of a period of time of the program, that people will say ‘I like this; I want to know more.’”
One of the program’s goals is to establish places of learning that are equitable for women and men, boys and girls, with an emphasis on building schools and properly staffing those schools with trained and qualified educators.
“To be most effective we want to encourage more education; for people to think for themselves and deny the insurgency the ability to dominate and lie to the people and tell them what they want them to hear,” said Fix. “People can then figure it out for themselves because education is power.”
The Radio Literacy program in Zabul province was put initially into practice during 116 IBCT’s tour of duty in Zabul province. With the redeployment of 116 IBCT in December, the Radio Literacy program is now in the capable hands of 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
The program runs six days a week, twice-a-day, at various locations, during times that prayer is not being conducted. Initially it was run in the Zabul villages of Mizan and Shahjuy at 9 o’clock in the morning and 6 o’clock at night.
“That way we can get people that work in the daytimes – out in the fields maybe – at nighttime, or people that are working in the evening times, or doing other things, in the morning times,” said Fix. “Also, women are more likely to be alone or their husband’s not around and therefore able to participate unobtrusively in the morning times.”
Villagers that participate in the project receive one Radio Literacy handbook per family – sometimes two if theirs is a large family – which includes 15 weekly modules, and forty-some odd lessons, all of which are very rudimentary.
“Its ABCs and 123s, some words and things like that,” said Fix. “Again, the purpose is to get people to want to have education; to get people to want to go to school.”
In addition to the Radio Literacy handbook, participating villagers also receive 1 hand-crank radio per family which can receive AM and FM frequencies, as well as shortwave 1 and shortwave 2. Shortwave radio, more commonly known as ham radio in the United States, is able to reach areas where AM and FM frequencies cannot.
“This radio is a hand-crank radio that has a diode in it so it can charge via hand-crank, a solar panel, or can operate off typical AAA batteries,” Fix said.
Other than the Radio Literacy program there’s other programming that runs on a 24-hour basis on most radios. Some of that programming contains religion, news and public service announcements. They even provide entertainment and children’s programming.
“In addition to that, we play music, poetry,” said Fix. “They love poetry, they love music. You wouldn’t think from a warrior society like theirs’ that they would but they’re kind of really into that.”
The Radio Literacy Program is part of the “Knowledge is Light” campaign which was designed to raise literacy awareness and is being run in some capacity across most of Afghanistan. Its target audience is largely women and girls and, accordingly, was designed to be completed by the participants in their homes and villages. It was introduced to Zabul province in 2011 by 116 IBCT and is currently being administered by 3-2 SBCT.