Georgetown Supplies Afghan Schools
My Special Forces Team recently journeyed to a district largely controlled by insurgents, located at the base of a massive mountain range. Our mission---one of our final missions---was to visit and deliver supplies to two village schools.
Our route to the villages took us along a road where an Afghan National Army convoy had recently struck a 200 pound IED, killing several soldiers. Most IEDs in this area are 30-40 pounds---a 200 pound IED is massive and blew up not only the vehicle, but a good chunk of the asphalt road as well. As we passed the blast site of this IED, we were all too aware that where there's one IED, there's often others as well.
We reached the first school, which was set atop a rise with a commanding view of the nearby village and wadi. This particular school had been attacked, burned, and partially blown up by insurgent forces nearly a year ago. Undaunted, the teachers continue to hold classes and the students continue to attend classes outside, sitting on a hillside. With the help of the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team, and in cooperation with the Afghan Ministry of Education, the school has been slowly rebuilt over the last year and is nearly ready for the return of its students and teachers.
Almost as soon as our convoy arrived, kids from the nearby villages began to gather. Myself and the other soldiers greeted the students as they approached, handing out candy.
We also spoke with one of the schoolteachers. He's an incredibly brave man, living in one Taliban-controlled village, teaching in a second Taliban-controlled village, and constantly traveling between them along IED and ambush-laden routes. He told us that his school had more than 900 students in Grades 1 through 9.
As the crowd of students continued to grow, we offloaded some of the school supplies we had brought with us. These supplies had been donated from friends and family back in the United States. Among the most popular items were bookbags donated by my alma mater, the Georgetown University Law Center. We handed out dozens at this village school. Each bookbag was filled with pens, paper, notebooks, and other school supplies. They were a huge hit. (Although some children preferred alternative uses for their new school supplies.)
We also handed workbooks, children's clothing, and other donations sent from the United States.
As the children tore into their new school supplies, I noticed that there were almost no girls in the crowd gathered around us. I looked and saw a small group of girls huddled together but sitting apart from the boys. We made sure that they received their fair share of supplies (and candy). The expressions of joy on the faces of the children was more than well worth the trip. For the students who had not been able to come to the school that day, we left boxes and boxes of supplies with one of the schoolteachers.
Our first stop complete, we continued on our journey. Having delivered school supplies to one school, the ODB hastened to another village in this Taliban-controlled district of Afghanistan. As we approached the village's school, we saw that it was surrounded by a fortress like wall. Inside those walls, the villagers showed us what remained of the original school. A year ago, insurgents had snuck inside in the middle of the night, tied up the four security guards watching over the school, and placed a bomb inside. When the bomb completed its work, the school's roof had collapsed and the classrooms lay in rubble.
Walking outside, I saw a tall pile of burnt and twisted desk frames, more evidence of the tragic fate of the village's school. As we walked around, we felt anger when we saw what remained of one of the classrooms in this once beautiful schoolhouse. What kind of people blow up schools?
Since the destruction of their schoolhouse, the students in this village have been attending classes under the ramshackle shed shown below, which consists of nothing more than sheets of metal placed on top of a bare wooden frame.Happily though, the students will soon have a new boys school and girls school, currently being built the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team with the cooperation of the Afghan Government. We saw the foundation laid and the concrete support beams beginning to rise.
The school was huge, with over 1,100 students in all 12 grades. The Principal was a young man, only a few years out of college, who oversaw a staff of 26 teachers. Soon after we arrived, over 100 students gathered along with several teachers. I took the opportunity to give a short talk to the students about the supplies they were receiving and our hopes and wishes for them.
With the help of the Afghans, we handed out schoolbags donated by Georgetown University Law Center and supplies donated by friends and family back in the United States. The students immediately dove into the bags and supplies with obvious appreciation and gratitude. There was one adorable boy, tinier the rest, who clutched his schoolbag and supplies with little hands that would not let go. Another boy won the award for best hat I have seen on an Afghan child, bar none. I have no clue what it's supposed to be, but I do know that it kicks ass.
As we prepared to leave, the kids gave us a rousing goodbye. Our mission complete, we began the journey back to base. I was saddened by the knowledge that I would not have a chance to return to these schools, to these kids, to see them in their new classrooms, to see their progress, but I was heartened that I was able to contribute, even if it was a small contribution, to their lives in some way.