BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - The Women's Poultry Project in Afghanistan's Panjshir province is a giant leap forward for the women who call the Panjshir River valley their home.
The project is designed to empower women in the valley by assisting them in providing food and income for families.
Greg Schlenz of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agricultural advisor to the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team, said the project began last spring in the Anaba district with about 200 families and now includes more than 1,200 Panjshir families in the Anaba, Rhoka, Bazarak, Dara and Khenj districts.
In four training phases over three months, the women learn how to raise, maintain and profit from their chickens.
"The first phase is the initial training, where the women learn how to properly care for the chickens," Schlenz said. "This includes feeding, watering, managing and how to vaccinate against diseases."
During the second phase, the women receive materials to build their own chicken coops. In the third phase, the women are given 13 hens and two roosters and receive follow-up visits to ensure the chickens are being cared for properly. The fourth phase teaches the women how to market eggs laid by the chickens.
The provincial reconstruction team's women's affairs working group serves as the liaison between the Afghan women taking part in the project and the agricultural team. On Aug. 16, the group visited several project sites in the Chalapawi village in Dara district.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Danielle M. Sempter, non-commissioned officer in charge of the provincial reconstruction team's medical unit, is an active member of the working group and was present at the site visit.
"This project is a huge success," she said. "They were happy to see us, and many said raising chickens has significantly improved the quality of their lives."
Sempter added that others have noticed the difference raising chickens has made and want to be a part of the project.
"Women who weren't involved came up and asked for training and chickens of their own," she said.
Sempter said most of the owners reported only consuming the eggs, with only one claiming to be selling half of the eggs and keeping the rest. Though none reported consuming the chickens, she added, only one had all 15 chickens.
Schlenz said the project has spread to other areas of Panjshir and to other provinces in Afghanistan. A similar program is being developed to teach Afghans in Panjshir's Paryan district to care for and benefit from sheep.
(Air Force Capt. John T. Stamm serves in the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team public affairs office.)