MARJAH, Afghanistan --
After months of preparation, Marines with 3rd Civil Affairs Group, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, opened the doors to newly renovated schools here, Sept. 5.
According to Capt. Stanton C. Lee, civil affairs team leader for the battalion, the area had virtually no education system in place before, resulting in a 90 percent illiteracy rate and an elementary-level education for adults.
“Typically, in this area, it is rare to find anyone above a 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade education level,” said Lee. “It’s very hard to find people (who) can read or write out here.”
Lee said his team put in countless hours to set the community up for success. Days before the grand opening, Marines and Afghan soldiers were busy trucking in chairs, chalkboards, desks, and other school supplies
“When the kids show up they will get a back-pack filled with pens, paper and notebooks,” said Lee. “We have everything here for them.”
Lance Cpl. Bryan Kim, a civil affairs specialist with the battalion, pointed out that the schools aren’t just for kids.
“I’ve heard of some classes in the past that had an age range from 10 to 30 years old,” said Kim. “It’s geared towards children, but it’s open to anyone.”
Lee explained that one of the major obstacles they’ve encountered is the local’s fear of being persecuted or harmed by enemy insurgents. He said insurgents are aware of the situation and will do anything in their power to keep them from attending class.
“They are in direct competition with our school program,” said Lee. “They would rather we not have schools available.
They don’t want the children or anyone of the area to attend. They threaten the teachers with reprisals, and it scares them.”
Interfering with education is to the enemy’s advantage, Lee said. If the local population is ignorant, they are more susceptible to Taliban propaganda, he explained.
Because of Taliban threats, schools were placed near International Security Assistance Force assets.
“Every school is located adjacent to either a patrol base or a forward operating base,” said Lee. “They’re all in the line of sight of security towers with armed guards. Marines, ANA and Afghanistan National Police have security 24/7.”
“We’re definitely headed in the right direction and focusing on the right things such as education,” Lee added. “I believe the children of Afghanistan are the future, and this is one of the first steps.”