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    Canadian KPRT helping to build capacity, communities

    Canadian KPRT Helping to Build Capacity, Communities

    Photo By Canadian Forces Cpl Dan Pop | In a villiage near Camp Nathan Smith, Afghanistan, the filth floats in the water....... read more read more

    AFGHANISTAN

    07.16.2007

    Story by Kristina Davis 

    National Defence Canada

    By Kristina Davis
    National Defence Canada Public Affairs

    CAMP NATHAN SMITH, Afghanistan — Filth floats in the water. Worse still, the smell grips your stomach. It doesn't let go.

    Kids dance back and forth across a makeshift bridge—sure-footed, they never fall in. They wave and smile and ask for pens.

    Amid the clamour, she quietly washes her hair in that very water. The water runs down her face, while the smell carries and hangs in the air. It mingles with the heat and the dust, creating a perfume like no other. But she wears a beautiful blue smock and her fingernails are painted. It's an irony repeated over and over.

    Soon, her village will get a well and, hopefully, clean water.

    The Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (KPRT) lies outside Kandahar City at Camp Nathan Smith (CNS). It's a more intimate camp than Kandahar Airfield, with almost that small town feel. Cats roam, eating the mice. And while no one is supposed to touch them, it's difficult not to.

    Captain Bob Wheeler, from Corner Brook, Newfounland, has been in the CF for 26 years. He arrived at the KPRT way back in February and is part of the Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) Team. He vividly remembers the first village he visited.

    "I had no idea where to start," he admits. And then things got complicated. An older man explained that his village, Nazarin, where Capt Wheeler was standing, was not part of the larger village that surrounded it. Okay, thought Capt Wheeler.

    Instead, the some 200 families, living in what he describes as "desperation" from battles of old, were from a different tribe. "The place was practically destroyed," says Capt Wheeler. Coupled with the destruction, the KPRT were not the first to offer help. Others had done the same and then never came back.

    "The work starts today," Capt Wheeler told the man. From there, he says, it's been one project and one village at a time.

    From canals to wells and even repairs to local mosques, the CIMIC team travels, always unannounced, to area villages. They are never quite sure what they will find.

    Once projects are determined for specific villages, after initial interviews with CIMIC personnel, the project begins. And it's only after the project is completed that money exchanges hands.

    CIMIC pays for the labour and the materials, but always with some caveats. There must be a supervisor and they must hire local labour. On average, the labourers are paid 200 Afghani or about $5 a day.

    The bargain is struck though, with only the word of the CIMIC personnel, and a piece of paper detailing the project. It's based on trust and honour. And it works. Key to its success is the fact that it is, from the get-go, an Afghan project in Afghan hands.

    Abdul Ali comes to the KPRT to meet Capt Wheeler for a payout. He's not the only one—two others wait their turn. Sweets and chai appear.

    Mr. Ali brings a book with calculations. Sand, gravel, daily wages for labourers and two masons. He and Capt Wheeler add up the cost of building locks in the irrigation canals. It's often said that the Afghans can make water run uphill using an intricate system of mud canals.

    The water means wheat, watermelon, corn and pomegranates. Where irrigation is possible, crops will grow. The crops will benefit more than 350 families. "Nobody has helped us like this before," offers Mr. Ali. "We appreciate it and are happy for Canadian help."

    At first, he says, he wasn't sure where Capt Wheeler was from. But then he got his business card. It said Canada and the KPRT.

    Capt Wheeler, a reservist, sees similarities between his "civvie" job at General Motors and his work in Afghanistan. He says it's all about negotiating and reading body language. He doesn't think it matters if the person is Afghan or Canadian. It's all the same to him.

    Major Shawn Courty is the officer commanding at the CIMIC Detachment at the KPRT. Previous to this tour, he was in Haiti in 2004. He says there are some similarities. From the environment, with the oppressive heat and little vegetation, to the use of translators, he says there's a resemblance in the fundamentals.

    He wonders, though, if the role of the KPRT is misunderstood. "Our objective is not to dig wells," he explains. Instead, he says, their goal is to assist with Afghan-initiated projects and solutions.

    In fact, he sees the KPRT assisting in fostering a sense of community spirit to resolve, in some cases, longstanding issues or concerns. And maybe it is a well that needs to be dug or canals that are in need of repair. But the project and its purpose are driven by the local community.

    Maj Courty has a favourite project. When a non-governmental organization left the country, and left behind some 240 000 eucalyptus trees, Maj Courty had an idea. The trees, he thought, could be planted as part of an educational project. And it made sense.

    Soil erosion is rampant because there are simply no trees. So a portion of the trees were purchased and then donated. He noticed them planted beside the side of the road in Kandahar City. Lonely saplings? Yes. But not only were they planted, a white barricade had been erected to protect each one. Then he saw something that made his heart sing. A water truck. They were watering the saplings. A small victory? Sure, he says. But it's a beginning.

    Like Capt Wheeler, all members of the team are reservists. Maj Courty says they all bring unique skill sets to the job. To that end, he tries to send the right person to do the right job. So the CIMIC operator who's a paramedic? They deal with health issues. And it works.

    In the first two months alone, they completed 148 projects. From there, they went on a "blitz".

    From village to village

    Mohammed Kasim, a grade nine student, is on his way to school. The CIMIC operators want to ask him some questions. They've stopped in a village along his bike route. A member of the force protection company (FP Coy), provided by the some 130 soldiers from the Royal 22e Régiment, motions to him. He gets off his bike and is searched. He speaks English, and well. There's no need for the translators that are always on hand.

    Beside the village are rows of tents. They are nomads or Kuchis and have lived there for nearly two years. Goats roam and eat whatever they can find. The tents are tattered by time and no doubt the dust that whips through.

    A village elder appears. He is also searched. A young man then approaches. He's searched, also. He has a gun in his pocket. They answer more questions. One says there are no schools in the village and while there is running water, only one pump works. The translator steps in. There's some electricity. It works, on average, two hours a day.

    Another village and the same routine again and again. Here, the boys go to school. The girls do not. If the school was close, a local councilor offers, perhaps the girls might also go to school. There's a canal, but it's dirty. It needs to be cleaned. The canal is four and a half kilometres long. The CIMIC operators take notes and ask more questions. "Their faces tell a story," says Capt Wheeler.

    There are people ready and able to work, the councillor continues. And the Taliban? "We are united," he says. "We know each other in the village. If a stranger comes, we will know it."

    He says it's the first time he's seen coalition forces in his village. There's more talk of wells and water. Capt Wheeler gives the go-ahead. They shake hands. The councilor grasps the hands of the men he's never seen before—the men who have happened along.

    "What can we do for you?" he asks.

    Outreach into the community

    Most of them had never tasted ice cream.

    Chief Petty Officer, 2nd Class Kevin Lamorie, the Camp Nathan Smith Military Police Platoon Warrant Officer, was still talking about the looks on their faces. They'd never had ice cream, he wonders.

    But some 20 students from three Kandahar City schools that cater to both deaf and blind children, got to sample not only ice cream, but also homemade cookies and some Afghan delicacies during a picnic hosted by the MP Platoon.

    And it was hard to figure out just who was having the most fun. The MPs smiled from ear to ear, while the kids performed skits and ran a typical class. While children with disabilities in Canada are offered special programs, in Afghanistan, it can be quite different.

    Their teacher says while there are about 50 children in the program, it's just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, she says general disability awareness is required, as are programs for Afghan sign language.

    The situation is especially challenging for girls with disabilities. How, she says, does a mother teach her blind daughter to bake bread?

    But, she says, programs like this and the possibility of an education and a job, are not only encouraging, they are raising the children's expectations. More is possible for them.

    For CPO 2 Lamorie, he says their fundraising and support for the kids is far from over. They hoped to raise enough money for a Braille printer. The cost? Close to $400 USD.

    Inside the KPRT

    There's an office at CNS that, until recently, belonged to a great storyteller. Brigadier-General Mohammed Hussain, the former KPRT representative to the Ministry of the Interior, left his post at the end of June.

    The recently promoted BGen Hussain will now be the chief of police for Helmand province.

    "My country is at war, and we go where our country needs us," BGen Hussain says.

    BGen Hussain has been with the Afghan National Police for 37 years and has worked at the KPRT for more than three years. He says his role is to "give advice with honesty". There's no doubt, he does.

    He believes that creating job opportunities, like those generated by KPRT projects, will help bring about real peace and security. Busy hands, he says, mean less destructive behaviour.

    And, he says, the international community misunderstands Afghanistan. "They are thinking Afghanistan is a place of bad luck," he offers. Not so. To completely understand the country and its people, one must look to its rich history, he adds.

    Three decades of war have left little. "Afghanistan is injured, wounded badly and in need of treatment," he says. He points to the past where infrastructure did exist as did schools and relative prosperity. He remembers a different Afghanistan. Sadly, he adds, it can't cure itself.

    For the KPRT, the more, the better

    Major Chip Madic is the deputy commander of the KPRT. He says there are a lot of clichés attached to their work. The bottom line for the KPRT, he says, is the reconstruction effort. It just depends, he adds, on how you define reconstruction.

    Afghanistan is not like Bosnia, he explains. No one is handing out blankets or soccer balls.

    "Nothing could be further from where we're at," he explains. Instead, infrastructure is being built or re-built. Hundreds of projects worth millions of dollars are underway, not including those undertaken by other Canadian government departments. "The aim is to synchronize our efforts," he adds.

    And for every single one of those projects, members of the KPRT are out on combat patrols, meeting with local elders and councilors, shaking hands and discussing issues. Delivering aid, he suggests, builds no capacity.

    Those combat patrols are made possible, in large part, because of the FP Coy. The security risks are real. "The Van Doos are top-shelf," says Maj Madic. "We could not do a fraction of what we do without them."

    And while the task may be daunting, and sometimes seems to go unnoticed, there's a great resolve at the KPRT. "We are decidedly focussed," says Maj Madic, "on effects to achieve – and the more, the better."

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 07.16.2007
    Date Posted: 07.16.2007 12:41
    Story ID: 11293
    Location: AF

    Web Views: 559
    Downloads: 483

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