Thursday, April 14, 2011

For the Children

Children from the Sadiq Rohee High School escort members of the 3-19th Agribusiness Development Team back to their vehicles after a recent visit to the school. Sadiq Rohee High School was one of six schools chosen by the Khowst Province Director of Education as a pilot school for the Future Farmers of Afghanistan project.

Just over a month ago, in my Teach a Man to Fish update, the basic groundwork was laid for our team's legacy project- the Future Farmers of Afghanistan. Since that time, members of the 3-19th ADT have cris-crossed the Afghan countryside in an effort to ensure a key component of this project, agricultural education kits, have been properly installed at the six pilot high schools selected by the Khowst Province Director of Education.

The front side of Sadiq Rohee High School
Five of the six schools included in the program have been visited by ADT members and received approval at this point. While there have been a few minor construction discrepancies throughout the inspections, overall the contractor has exceeded expectations on product delivery in what was a relatively short period of time by Afghan standards. The kits; consisting of a composting pit, greenhouse, chicken coop, and a solar dehydrator, have grown into quite popular attractions at each of their respective schools. At the time that each school was visited, instruction had not yet begun specific to the agriculture kits. To be completely honest, the look on most student's faces as they examined the newly installed devices for the first time was that of inquisitive innocence

The school children were extremely grateful for the new
training opportunities provided to them
During a recent visit to Sadiq Rohee High School, a school in the Mandozai District of Afghanistan with an enrollment exceeding 4,000 students, ADT members had the opportunity to discuss the newly installed kits with both administrators and the actual teachers who would be utilizing the training devices. As classroom space and teacher time is extremely limited, the school day by American standards is cut in half. With the  younger students attending in the early morning hours, afternoons are filled with upper classmen. These schools could best be compared to a K-12 school back in the States. While a full day approach would obviously be favored, it is simply just not feasible with the shear number students enrolled.

While discussing different components of the ag ed kits with educators, the greenhouse is usually the topic of  most conversations. The different economic opportunities a greenhouse provides a community, with season extending production capabilities draws immediate interest. Solar dehydrators, a relatively new concept with essentially no operating costs, also provide an avenue for economic activity within a village.

A common concern, virtually across the board within our six schools, is a lack of water access in the immediate area surrounding the agricultural education kits. If I had a dollar for every time an Afghan engaged me in a conversation regarding a well, I'd retire an extremely wealthy man upon completion of my year here.

Over the years, many efforts have been made my Coalition Forces and Non-Governmental Organizations to address these water concerns. In the time we've spent on the ground here thus far, water is by no means a limiting factor to agricultural production in Khowst Province- however the management of water resources could definitely improve.

The project manager responsible for the FFA project, Rahim Hadi,
discusses options for vegetable planting in the newly installed greenhouse
at Sadiq Rohee High School with the school's principal, Mohammad Nasir.

By far, the most memorable and rewarding portion of this trip- the portion that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life, has been the people we have met along the way. I'm amazed, while also proud to report that we're over 2/3 of the way complete with our year here. With less than four months left, we've still got a lot of work to do before we're ready to hand over the reins to our fellow Hoosiers on the 4-19th ADT. 

While working in a war-torn country, it is quite simple to find yourself bogged down in the daily grind. Many of the usual suspects you're forced to deal with would make Chicago politics look like a textbook version of democracy. Hand sanitizer has quickly become one of the most coveted additions to any daypack I carry along on mission, it's as if you can feel the corruption oozing off the hands of some of these men. Just as I find myself reaching a breaking point with this older crowd- I'm quickly reminded that there is a younger generation, the Future Farmers of Afghanistan, who are depending on work by teams such as ours to give them a glimmer of hope for a brighter tomorrow; in a country that has seen a very dark past few decades.

This poor sap wanted a photo with your's truly...think
he must have liked the moustache?
From the Agricultural Extension Agents to the District Sub-Governors, to our interpreters and comrades-in-arms comprising the Afghan National Army; the efforts so many are making to better their country has been truly inspiring. If the country of Afghanistan will soon be ready to stand on it's own- after a transition from the current ISAF-NATO presence diminishes, a nation full of men and women determined to prevail in the battle of good versus evil will be necessary. 

Even after several months exposure at random locations around the Khowst Province, the solar dehydrator
systems continue to draw the most inquisitive looks from the locals.

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