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Local government officials and many merchants from all over gather in Marjah for the re-opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony of the marketplace in Marjah, Afghanistan, Sept. 11.

Photo by Cpl. Skyler Tooker

Reopening of Marjah marketplace marks economic progress, social unity

11 Sep 2010 | Cpl. Skyler Tooker

The Marjah marketplace reopened in Marjah, Sept. 11, during a festival known as Mela, marking economic development and infrastructure growth for the people of Marjah that has not been in existence for more than five years.

"The marketplace was integral part of society in the past," said Lt. Col. Kyle B. Ellison, commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. "It’s been said that the Mela, or festival, was one of the largest in Afghanistan."

More than 300 people came to the reopening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for what could be likened to a state or county fair. The Mela offers shop owners throughout the Helmand River valley a venue to sell goods, but is also a weekly social event of which the people of Marjah can be a part.

"All we tried to do is set the conditions for the people of Marjah to bring the Mela back," said Ellison, from Boston.

The Mela is a slap in the face to the Taliban, because it is the Afghan government and coalition forces coming together to deliver something very tangible that the people of Marjah wanted, said Capt. Benjamin A. Swanson, the civil affairs team leader for 2/6.

Despite obstacles in finding a location, providing security to build and protecting the marketplace against saboteurs, the Mela is back in Marjah. Vendors were registering and excitement could be seen throughout the marketplace as locals gathered from all over southern Marjah for the ceremony.

"It’s an absolute symbol of success," said Swanson, from Minneapolis.

The success could also be seen in the initiative taken by local elders, the security provided by the local police and the Afghan government’s oversight in the Mela, said Ellison. The vast turnout and elder’s support also showed the unity of the people of Marjah to make something happen.

"The Mela is just another indication that it’s getting better in Marjah," said Ellison.

As the Afghan government and the local elders continue to embrace and cultivate the Mela, it will bring people back to Marjah, provide more economic growth and further unite the people of Marjah under the GIRoA.