German soldiers are helping refurbish a shattered school in a village near Kabul, as rebuilding damaged infrastructure becomes an important task of the peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan.
Education of girls is an important focus in post-Taliban Afghanistan
As Afghanistan begins to pick up the pieces after 23 years of civil war, it’s clear to all involved that the task of rebuilding the shattered country is an enormous one.
The United Nations estimates that Afghanistan will need at least $15 billion over the next ten years to repair its badly damaged infrastructure.
In fact, rebuilding the infrastructure of the devastated country has taken on so much of an urgency that soldiers with the International Security Force (ISAF) stationed in Afghanistan now routinely help out with reconstruction projects.
An important role for Germany
Germany has been playing a leading role in helping Afghanistan rebuild its broken bridges and streets and telecommunications network. Several German companies involved in rebuilding projects in Afghanistan also receive financial aid and support from Berlin.
In particular, Bundeswehr soldiers of the German contingent are involved in CIMIC (Civilian and Military Co-operation) projects that are now a regular feature of peacekeeping operations worldwide.
A German soldier on patrol in a street in Kabul
One CIMIC project in Afghanistan involves rebuilding a bullet-riddled school in the village of De’Sahbs, nestled in a valley among ragged mountains, about 30 kilometres from Kabul.
The school -- whose pupils include some 350 girls and 400 boys -- falls in the French sector. But since the French soldiers at present have no financial means to restore the school, the mission has been taken over by the Germans, who have secured money from the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin for the project.
Bernd Wilhelm, a worker with the Bundeswehr's CIMIC project in Afghanistan, says that if the school didn’t have girl students, the Bundeswehr wouldn’t have bothered to approach the Foreign Ministry for aid. Wilhelms comments underscore the importance attached to the education of girls in post-Taliban -- especially by western donors.
Soldiers to renovate damaged edifice
At the moment, children at the school in De’Sahbs attend lessons in the open – the boys in the morning, girls in the afternoon. But the German soldiers soon hope to change that.
They have plans to refurbish the crumbling building, build a new roof, replace windows and touch up and paint the outer walls.
"If we have some money left after that, then we can buy some classroom furniture," Wilhelm says. "But if we don’t have the money, then we’ll just get some carpets. After all the majority of the children sit on carpets, classroom furniture is something of a luxury here". He estimates that the school should be up and running with the help of $20,000 in aid.
Soldiers hope to engage villagers
Rural life in the village of De’Sahbs is marked by traditions and simplicity. The people live in houses made of clay and grow vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes and grapes.
But the idyllic village still bears the scars of war and violence. Some of the fields the village lie disused and fallow because dangerous landmines are still believed to be lurking in the ground.
That’s one reason Wilhelm is hopeful that a lot of people in the village -- with the fallout of traditional occupations -- would support and help in the rebuilding of the school.
The CIMIC project's managers are also trying to use as many local firms as possible on the project in order to provide local inhabitants with temporary jobs.
But Wilhelm says it is important to acknowledge local customs with these projects. "We will build the school in the local style that people here are used to," he says.
Seeking to improve understanding
Helping out with the school rebuilding project is also a welcome change to the soldiers from their daily duties. Managers also hope the project will bring the foreign soldiers a step closer to being trusted and understood by the local populace.
"Helping out is sometimes more pleasant and simple than patrolling," Wilhelm says, "and I think that we’re also doing something for the reputation of the soldiers. It’s important that one sees the soldiers not just patrolling but also helping build something new. It will go a long way in helping the people here accept the foreign soldiers".
Meanwhile, the arrival of the Bundeswehr soldiers in their large ISAF lorry laden with dented packets of books, pencils and pens has already led to much excitement in the village as the children crowd around the men clad in their olive-green fatigues.