News>Joint team construction projects follow Afghan priorities
First Lt. Keith Yelk inspects an outpatient clinic at the S.Malakhi Provincial Hospital May 27, 2010, in Qalat City, Afghanistan. Lieutenant Yelk is a civil engineer assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)
by Tech. Sgt. Oshawn Jefferson
U.S. Air Forces Central Command combat camera team
6/15/2010 - QALAT CITY, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Airmen and Soldiers are encouraging Afghan government officials to determine their own priorities for construction projects that will benefit people in the Zabul province.
"We recognized a need for the people of Zabul to be connected with their government and the desire of the population to build trust with their government," said Capt. Matthew Joseph, the Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul lead engineer. "As a team, we are partnering with Afghan leaders to better use our time and resources to serve the people of Afghanistan."
PRT Zabul leads 14 projects in the province including bridge reconstruction, hospital improvements, school construction, emergency road repairs, trash services and irrigation wells. These projects, coupled with several other improvement operations led by Afghan government officials, drove a requirement to organize and prioritize projects in the region.
"One of the main benefits of the process is Afghan ownership," said Lt. Col. Erik Goepner, the PRT Zabul commander. "Even though we are the team lead for many of the projects in the region, projects are being accomplished to benefit the Afghan people. These meetings let the government and government advisors plan as a team to pick the best project to benefit the Afghan people right now."
They began to hold meetings in May, which occur every two weeks and include PRT Zabul leaders along with village elders, district chiefs and provincial government officials. A first for this region, the meeting is already paying dividends for Afghan leaders.
"This connects us to the people," said Gulab Shah, a Zabul Province deputy governor. "We are getting a better understanding of the importance of prioritization to get people what they need. We are also hearing concerns from villages that didn't have a chance to voice their needs to us as their leaders."
The open and honest meetings have led to team building, balancing partnerships, sharing of resources and identifying unique strengths, Afghan government and PRT officials said. The end results have led to Afghans picking their top 10 projects for the region and making plans for the future.
"It is great to hear them all talking at once and really voicing their concerns," Captain Joseph said. "They were quiet at the first meeting; we were the only ones talking. Now everyone is voicing their concerns with a focus on the needs of the people in their respective regions. The best part is at the end of the day they can all come to an agreement on which projects get completed first and plan for what's next."
For Afghan leaders, meetings are leading to real change and helping them focus on the people.
"Communication between the people and us as leaders is the key to our future," Deputy Governor Shah said. "Our people have needs and a voice. Our meetings give us a chance to listen and do what is best for the Afghans in our region."