Coalition Troops Work to Help Kabul Residents
By Sgt. Matthew MacRoberts, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, Jul. 12, 2005 Students at Lamashaheed School here attend classes in conditions that make learning difficult and can even endanger their health. But still, the teachers continue to instruct, and the children eagerly attend class.
Afghan girls at the Lamashaheed school laugh after having their picture taken while receiving new pens, pencils, colored markers, and other school supplies from the Commander's Emergency Response Program. U.S. and British servicemembers delivered the supplies during the students' classes. U.S. Army photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The U.S. military and the United Kingdom's 2nd Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles, have been working to supply schools and hospitals in Kabul with essential supplies and material support. U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Hendrick Felix and his staff of soldiers, airmen and seamen keep an inventory of prayer rugs, Korans, children's clothes, sugar, tea, beans, rice, stoves, hygiene kits and school supplies.
The troops support 13 schools, seven kindergartens and as many local hospitals as their supplies allow.
British Army Capt. Daniel Lama, the Gurkha 2nd Battalion's civil assistance representative, said the most important items given to students are pens, pencils and notebooks. "This is because at the schools these items are not issued and are, in relative terms, expensive. Colored pencils or crayons are also fantastic and help add some color into their young lives," Lama said.
Helping supply everyday items is one part of the coalition's effort to return life to normal in Afghanistan. "This program is part of the Commanders Emergency Response Program," Felix said.
For Felix and his crew, going to Kabul recently to distribute supplies was special. "It was the first time I helped issue the (civic aid) supplies we stock to Afghans," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar Avila, an El Paso native and a Navy storekeeper. "It felt great actually giving it to them. The crowded classrooms and the conditions in the hospital surprised us."
Lamashaheed, which is named after one of the school's teachers who was shot and killed in her classroom during the war, is one of the schools receiving assistance. It was built to accommodate some 2,000 students, but currently has more than 6,300. Corridors and stairwells are used as makeshift classrooms, and tents are used for the overflow.
"My first impression was they really need a place to facilitate the classes," Felix said. "They need at least a fan to circulate the air to just be out in the tents.
"The children and teachers just bear it and withstand the heat," he said. "That's sheer determination."
Tent classrooms have dirt floors, and those inside are at the mercy of the environment. In summer, temperatures in the tents can rocket to more than 120 degrees. Many children experience health problems from the heat: nosebleeds, headaches, nausea, dehydration and heat stroke. Every tent has jugs of water, and the teachers try to ensure their students take frequent water breaks to stave off heat injuries.
"The heat is unbearable sometimes," said Rahima, a teacher at Lamashaheed. "My big wish is to get rid of the tents and get proper classrooms."
Hospitals in the community also welcome the assistance brought by the civic-aid partnership. Many medical services, such as CT scans, and liver function tests and other blood work, are not readily available here.
"Working with the hospitals, we support the weakest members of society," Lama said. "And working with schools we support the future of the country. This has important force-protection spinoffs as the military is then seen as a force for good in an additional role from that of a security provider."
Maiwand Hospital's director, Dr. M. Gul, said his main request was for some way for his staff to liaison with coalition or International Security Assistance Force medical facilities so better diagnoses can be made and treatments prescribed.
"The hospitals aren't really hospitals, they are more like just a building with beds," said Felix. "(The doctors') highest form of medical technology is their minds and their hands. If they had the technology we have, they could better treat their patients. But they lack that technology, and they lose people every day."
Lama said the most upsetting thing he sees during his distribution of aid is "the seriously ill children in the intensive care ward of Maiwand Hospital. Many of these children have little or no hope of survival because the doctors lack the basic equipment and drugs to diagnose and then treat them."
When asked about his partnership with U.S. forces, Lama said, "I think it would be fair to say that the U.S. and U.K. forces have a close working relationship and this is recognized around the world. The United Kingdom and United States are both committed and totally dedicated to the stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan. This enables the mutual crossover of support to occur. And the development of joint aid projects is, therefore, yet another example of this fruitful relationship."
(Army Sgt. Matthew MacRoberts is assigned to the 20th Public Affairs Detachment.)