News: New cultural center opens on Camp Leatherneck
Story by Chief Petty Officer L.A. Shively
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - A throng of Afghans, British and Americans surrounded Maj. Gen. John Toolan, Maj. Gen. Ematullah Dawlatzai, and Maj. Gen. Sayed Malook, to witness each cut a gold ribbon, officially opening the new Afghan Cultural Center on Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Dec. 17.
“It’s very important to bridge cultures between Afghanistan and the coalition forces,” said Toolan, commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Foward) and Regional Command Southwest.
“We do appreciate their culture and are willing to learn more about it,” Toolan said, adding that when a person sees his or her culture respected, they will return that respect in kind.
Dawlatzai, regional chief of police and the 707th Zone commander, and Malook commanding general of Afghan National Army's 215th Corps, joined Toolan for a tour of the building after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The three generals shared a meal after the tour.
The facility was established and is supported by many of the Afghan interpreters and coalition forces colleagues who work on Leatherneck Toolan explained.
“The crucial part of having a cultural center here, in Helmand province, is for the young Marines and young soldiers that come to engage with Afghans and cultivate a better understanding of the culture,” said Dr. Nasim Bunyad.
Bunyad, director of the center, explains that when people with different backgrounds come together and get to know each other, communicating, though each has a different language, becomes easier.
As a result, Bunyad asserted, when those Marines or soldiers go into the field and interact with Afghans in the towns and villages, they will have a clearer idea of how to foster a positive outcome from the encounter.
“It is our responsibility to represent the Afghan culture to Americans – the true Afghan culture,” explained Ojra Rashid, who is from Afghanistan but emigrated to the U.S. with her family.
Born and raised in Kabul, Rashid left with her family in 1984, in the wake of Russian intrusion and communism. She said after she lost her father and sister in the revolution, the rest of her family took what they could carry and walked for six days to Pakistan.
“It was a hard time. We witnessed a lot of ups and downs in our lives,” she said. “But what happened made me a stronger person. I keep my memories as colorful as I can, because once I belonged to this country.”
She recounted visiting various places in Afghanistan, before the political struggles began. “When I was six, we had a trip to Masar-i-Sharif in Balkh province, Ghazni, Kandahar and Herat. It was like a dream – we had a good time. I have a great memory of family, togetherness and celebrations that I will cherish the rest of my life.”
Rashid equates culture with history and sees the center as a vehicle to educate others about Afghanistan’s past, including the wars and unrest Afghans have faced.
The newly built center has a large reception area for lectures and gatherings, plus several classrooms.
“We can have our Eid, one of the very big Muslim celebrations here,” Bunyad said.
The festival of Eid-Ul-Adha or “Festival of Sacrifice” is celebrated in remembrance of the Muslim prophet Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God. The festival lasts three days during which prayers and sacrifices are offered.
A culture class is also planned, as well as classes in Pashto and Dari for both military and civilians aboard Camp Leatherneck.
“That is why we are here, to remind ourselves where we came from,” Rashid said. “I hope for the future and I am delighted and happy to do something for the Afghans and the Americans.”