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    Zabul PRT opens new girls' school in Qalat

    Zabul PRT Opens New Girls' School in Qalat

    Courtesy Photo | Governor Alhaj Ashraf Naseri releases two doves to which symbolizes a new begining...... read more read more

    KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN

    10.22.2009

    Courtesy Story

    U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs   

    KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- In a land where women were once forbidden the right to have an education during the dark period of Taliban rule and where literacy rate amongst women equaled less than one percent, a crowd of Afghans and U.S. servicemembers celebrated the building of a new school called Bibi Khala Girls' School Oct. 19 in Qalat city within the Zabul province.

    Bibi Khala is the largest girls' school in Qalat city with approximately 1,500 students. Their new building consists of eight classrooms made to hold at least 400 students and is modernized with a broader spectrum of education (i.e., computer programming classes, biology and chemistry laboratories), rather than simply the traditional reading lessons many may be used to. There will be classes for children in grades four through 10 during two four-hour shifts - one in the morning and the other in the afternoon - so that more girls will have an opportunity to use the facilities.

    "It's going to be the magnet school in Zabul for women's education," said Lt. Col. Andy Veres, Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team commander.

    Many students attended class inside tents due to the unavailability of enough classroom space. Now, with the opening of the annex, the number of classrooms has increased and students are moving out of the tents in a very timely manner as winter and cold weather approaches.

    "We really support the Bibi Kalah school and we're trying to help encourage more schools to follow the model of Bibi Khala," said Maj. Elizabeth Erickson, PRT senior medical officer and Women's Affairs leader. "They have really dedicated teachers and they do an excellent job in a province where it's very difficult for girls to go to school. In the district outside of Qalat city there are hardly any girls' schools at all."

    Mrs. Ching Eikenberry, wife of the U.S. ambassador of Zabul, is the honorable woman who initiated the idea of this new school.

    In her speech during the ceremony, she gave thanks to the PRT for leaving "the comfort of their homes in their own country to come all the way to Zabul to help build the school... We want to thank you for your support because running a school in Zabul is not the easiest thing."

    She also gave encouragement to the young women in the audience by explaining the importance of education.

    "Why is education important - because it is a key to another world," she said. "You will be able to help your maleks, you may get a better job, you may get a better life, and you may have an opportunity to travel around the world. But most importantly, you have the ability to help other people. When you're educated, you have knowledge, you have confidence... and that brings the beauty out of you."

    Army Brig. Gen. Ben Hodges, Regional Command-South deputy commander, also delivered words of encouragement to the women of Afghanistan who have dreams of becoming doctors, scientists, engineers or teachers. He expressed pride in the courage of the women of Afghanistan and gratitude for the Afghan soldiers and police who continue to serve and protect the people of Afghanistan regardless of the great risks.

    The event included speeches from leaders in Pashtun, songs from students in their native language, the planting of a tree and a ribbon cutting ceremony. The many smiles on the faces of both men and women showed all were filled with joy and excitement during this special occasion.

    "The teachers, principal, students and the governor were very excited," said one interpreter. "The teachers couldn't stop talking about this event. They were talking about the dark time of Taliban when they couldn't go to school. Some of the teachers had tears in their eyes. Some of the girls asked if we were coming back that we bring more pencils, notebooks and things like that."

    Brig. Gen. Guy Walsh, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing commander, presented Bibi Khala teachers with prayer scarves and school supplies donated by members of a school in which his wife teaches in the United States.

    "Prayer was very important in my education and I know it is important in your education," said Walsh. "It is our pleasure for the members of our Air Force to join you here today for such a celebration."

    The International Security Assistance Forces Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, which funded the school through the Commander's Emergency Response Program, worked in partnership with local community leaders and members.

    Veres said he attributes the success of this project to the teamwork of all the people there, including the security forces, the ISAF forces, the Romanian partners, the U.S., the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army.

    "First of all, they have to create an environment in which people feel safe to send their children to school," Veres said. "And you have to think of it from your own perspective as a parent. There are certain things that you want to have for the security of your child before you let them go outside the house to go to school."

    Then, of course, there are the people who work on the plan itself and the local council that prioritized this project and made it a priority for women's education.

    Veres said the biggest challenge with building this school was finding a reputable, qualified contractor.

    "Zabul province continues to have some problems in terms of security and, therefore, the local Afghan contractors are sometimes hesitant to work here," he said.

    During the bidding process, they are reminded of their commitment to the people and the importance of being able to stand the test of time.

    "I have worked with many of you hand in hand," he said. "We have done many things together, but almost nothing is as important as what we've done here today. Your children, our children, are our future, and this institution provides a much brighter future for them. The education that we can provide through this new institution will pay dividends decades from now. I look forward to making greater opportunities available not just for our children here today, but for all the people of Zabul province. It's my privilege to serve my nation and to work hand in hand with you."

    The next project expected for the school grounds includes the creation of a women's park and a school garden.

    The PRT's main mission is to work on governance and capacities, building in all aspects of Afghan society, including education, and to also help the Afghan people become reconnected with their government from which they have been separated during the Taliban years.

    "We operate off of a provincial reconstruction plan, which is a document that's built in collaboration with the governor, district chiefs and the local provincial council," Veres said. "These elders and educated members of the community come together and craft a plan for the future of the province."

    From that plan, they select key projects that can be funded through the PRT's CERP program. So this school was one of the most visible ways they could implement the governor's plan using funds from ISAF forces and to contract out that construction using local labor. The community benefitted in two ways: they received a new school for education, and people were also provided an opportunity to work.

    "We're seeing a lot of momentum amongst the women right now in furthering girls' education, furthering women's economic opportunities and general women's empowerment, and it's really exciting," said Erickson, who represented the women of the PRT at the school's opening ceremony. "This is a very unique experience in which I get to interact with the people and see positive things happening."

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 10.22.2009
    Date Posted: 10.22.2009 11:30
    Story ID: 40514
    Location: KANDAHAR, AF 

    Web Views: 405
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