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Coalition Makes a Difference for Afghans

By Sgt. 1st Class Matthew A. Fearing, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Aug. 27, 2004 – The convoy crested a dusty hill and the riders could see Shah Wali Kot below. The village is nestled in a small valley with brown hills that reach skyward on either side. Children in the village stopped to look as vehicles rolled into town. They turned and waved.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
An Afghan girl named Negeba paints a wall in a Shah Wali Kot classroom. She assisted coaliton servicemembers who visited her village during a recent "Make a Difference Day" renovation project. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew A. Fearing, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

This was not the first time the Americans had come to their village, and their faces displayed the eagerness with which the visit was welcomed.

Shah Wali Kot is slightly larger than many rural villages in the area. At least 20 buildings dot the town's landscape. Some homes sit on the hillsides, while others line the road that follows the valley.

More than 50 volunteers from Kandahar Airfield came to help on the recent "Make a Difference Day" organized by the soldiers of 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment. Getting up early and riding more than two hours to reach the village north of Kandahar, the volunteers descended on Shah Wali Kot's school to fix up the building and give the classrooms a fresh coat of paint.

Under Taliban rule, the school had been used as a jail. While observing the work being done to repair the school, Lt. Col. Mike McMahon, the regiment's commander, pointed out the improvements being made.

"Those windows were full of bricks from when the Taliban used the building as a jail," he said. "We're here to help (clean up the school) and make this a community project." The improvements were a joint effort between the American volunteers and the people of Shah Wali Kot.

Along with the civilian and military volunteers from Kandahar Airfield, McMahon noted all the children working on the school. "They're the future of Afghanistan. They're the ones that jump in and join us," he said smiling. Some children were pushing brooms, sweeping away the dust. Some had paint brushes and were painting walls, the green and white paint dripping on their hands and spatters going into their hair. All of them grinned widely as they worked.

Running from room to room to check on the progress, 2nd Lt. Jamie McNamara was the task organizer for the school project. She only slowed down to share a smile with a small Afghan girl, Negeba, who followed McNamara nearly everywhere she went. The relationship between the two began two weeks prior, when a smaller group of volunteers from the unit came to start the work on the school.

The first trip was scheduled to clean up the building and get it ready for painting. Both days, McNamara coordinated the worker's efforts while jumping into the work herself.

"Jamie!" a very young Afghan boy called. He smiled and beckoned for her to come see what he had accomplished. The scene was repeated with different children calling the lieutenant to talk to them or see what they had done.

Capt. Nelsa Caceres-Agosto, commander of the Arrival/Departure Airport Control Group, also brought eight servicemembers out to help. Her group, a mix of soldiers and airmen, were glad to share in the experience. Each of them indicated they wanted to help the Afghans and see more of the area around Kandahar. "I wanted to see what Afghanistan looked like," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Annette D. Garcia, 376th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron radio operator.

They weren't the only ones glad to have an opportunity to see more of the countryside.

"This was something the (Soviets) never did here to approach and take care of the people," said Staff Sgt. Darrell Osborne.

Wahdat, an interpreter for the mission, grabbed a paint brush and joined in the work.

"I am volunteering since I have to be here anyway," he said jokingly. He walked over to Agosto and pretended to paint her head. They laughed and the two resumed painting the walls of one of the larger classrooms.

In the afternoon, as the clean-up and painting continued, McMahon met with the village elders and school officials. He listened to their concerns and needs as Wahdat translated the conversation. They seemed pleased.

All the work on the school would mean that the children of the Shah Wali Kot district would have a place to study and learn. Teachers would no longer need to search for space to hold classes.

The inability to hold regular classes made it difficult to assess the number of students that might attend the school. Through the work of the community and volunteers, young people will now have a place to attend school regularly.

After the school was cleaned up and the rooms painted, the villagers and the volunteers gathered on the porch of a nearby building. Everyone shared the local bread, watermelon and grapes offered by the villagers. Tired from the work and heat, the volunteers were ready to get back to Kandahar.

Spc. Folet Dussault, captured the group's mood. On the way out of the village he said, "It was a long, tiring day. But it was a good day." With that, the convoy crested the hill and Shah Wali Kot dropped from view.

(Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew A. Fearing is assigned to the105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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