News>Reconstruction team opens new girls' school in Afghanistan
Afghan men and women celebrate the opening of the Bibi Khala Girls' School, in Afghanistan's Zabul Province, Oct. 19, 2009. The Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team provided the funds used to create the new school. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Timothy Taylor)
Brigadier General Guy Walsh, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing commander, addresses the audience during a ceremony at the newly built Bibi Khala Girls' School in Afghanistan's Zabul Province, Oct. 19, 2009. Built through the help of the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team, a new addition to the school house created eight more classrooms and allows more than 400 students to attend classes in a building rather than tents. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Timothy Taylor)
Zabul Province Governor Alhaj Ashraf Naseri releases two doves, symbolizing a new beginning, during the opening ceremony for the new Bibi Khala Girls' School in Qalat City, Afghanistan, Oct. 19, 2009. Ching Eikenberry, wife of ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who initiated the idea of the new school, was also present to commemorate the opening of the all women's school. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Timothy Taylor)
by Staff Sgt. Angelique N. Smythe
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
10/22/2009 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- A crowd of Afghans and U.S. servicemembers celebrated the building of the new Bibi Khala Girls' School Oct. 19 in Qalat city, located in Afghanistan's Zabul province.
Bibi Khala is the largest girls' school in Qalat, with approximately 1,500 students. The new building consists of eight classrooms made to hold more than 400 students and offers modern education opportunities, including computer programming classes, biology and chemistry laboratories.
The school offers classes to children in grades four through 10, who attend the school during two four-hour shifts. The first shift is in the morning and the second in the afternoon.
"It's going to be the magnet school in Zabul for women's education," said Lt. Col. Andy Veres, Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team commander.
Before the school opened, many students attended class in tents due to the limited amount of classroom space. With the opening of the annex, the number of classrooms has increased and students are moving out of the tents and into classrooms.
"We really support the Bibi Kalah school and we're trying to help encourage more schools to follow the model of Bibi Khala," said Maj. Elizabeth Erickson, PRT senior medical officer and Women's Affairs leader. "They have really dedicated teachers and they do an excellent job in a province where it's very difficult for girls to go to school. In the district outside of Qalat city there are hardly any girls' schools at all."
The idea for this school was initiated by Mrs. Ching Eikenberry, wife of a U.S. ambassador in Zabul.
In her speech during the ceremony, she gave thanks to the PRT for leaving the comfort of their homes in their own country to come all the way to Zabul to help build the school.
"We want to thank you for your support because running a school in Zabul is not the easiest thing," she said.
She also gave encouragement to the young women in the audience, explaining the importance of education.
"Why is education important? Because it is a key to another world," she said. "You will be able to help your maleks, you may get a better job, you may get a better life and you may have an opportunity to travel around the world," Mrs. Eikenberry said. "But most importantly, you have the ability to help other people. When you're educated, you have knowledge, you have confidence ... and that brings the beauty out of you."
Army Brig. Gen. Ben Hodges, Regional Command-South deputy commander, expressed his pride in the courage of the women of Afghanistan and gratitude for the Afghan soldiers and police who continue to serve and protect the people of Afghanistan regardless of the great risks.
The event included speeches from leaders in Pashtun, songs from students in their native language, the planting of a tree and a ribbon cutting ceremony.
"The teachers, principal, students and the governor were very excited," said one interpreter. "The teachers couldn't stop talking about this event. They were talking about the dark time of Taliban when they couldn't go to school. Some of the teachers had tears in their eyes. Some of the girls asked if we were coming back that we bring more pencils, notebooks and things like that."
Brig. Gen. Guy Walsh, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing commander, presented Bibi Khala teachers with prayer scarves and school supplies donated by members of a school where his wife teaches.
"Prayer was very important in my education and I know it is important in your education," General Walsh said. "It is our pleasure for the members of our Air Force to join you here today for such a celebration."
The International Security Assistance Forces Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, which funded the school through the Commander's Emergency Response Program, worked in partnership with local community leaders and members to make sure the project was a success.
Colonel Veres said he attributes the success of this project to the teamwork of all the people there, including the security forces, the ISAF forces, the Romanian partners, the United States and the Afghan National Police and Army.
"First of all, they have to create an environment in which people feel safe to send their children to school," Colonel Veres said. "And you have to think of it from your own perspective as a parent. There are certain things that you want to have for the security of your child before you let them go outside the house to go to school."
The school plans to create a women's park and a school garden on its grounds sometime in the future.
With the opening of the new school, the local community benefitted in two ways: It received a new school for education and local people were provided an opportunity to work.
"We're seeing a lot of momentum amongst the women right now in furthering girls' education, furthering women's economic opportunities and general women's empowerment, and it's really exciting," said Major Erickson, who represented the women of the PRT at the school's opening ceremony. "This is a very unique experience in which I get to interact with the people and see positive things happening."
12/16/2010 10:59:06 AM ET How can we support this school? I would love to donate financially to ensure its success as I am sure others would like to do as well. Thank you PRTs for your amazing work You make me so proud
Jayne Cravens, Portland OR
12/3/2009 12:45:26 PM ET I am extremely touched by this report and would like to help. Is there anything that the staff and families at Scott AFB can do to be of assistance? I would be proud to run any project that would be of use.