On their arrival at Camp Souter, the main British base in Kabul, in August 2010, the Force Protection and Transport Company set about working out what projects might benefit the local community under the banner of ‘Project Bland’.
The two main driving forces of their mission are security for troops transiting the local area and the welfare and plight of the local people.
Staff Sergeant John Stephenson from 2 Signal Regiment explained the impetus behind Project Bland:
A young soldier named Wayne Bland was tragically killed in Kabul in August 2008 while serving with 16 Signal Regiment.
His regiment paid tribute to him by rebuilding the local school outside camp, named Kujah Rawesh; subsequent regiments have carried on their work.
The school has also benefited from two new classrooms and a playground.
SSgt Stephenson explained how industrious British troops have made a big difference to the local community.
We used some old cables from around Camp Souter, brought them back to life and laid them into the local ‘Five Ways’ school; this has given them power for the very first time. Once power was connected, we were able to provide them with computers too with all the latest software.
In another local community, contractors were employed to build five wells in the area; although there were a number of wells already, many were in disrepair, and it was reported that three children had reportedly died from disease in the area.
SSgt Stephenson continued:
Any well that could be repaired was fixed within a month of us arriving and any that posed a health hazard were closed down.
The result is free-flowing clean water for the community. Food, clothing and blankets were also needed by the local people, so humanitarian aid distribution is regularly carried out to 100 families.
The biggest improvement in the area has been to the local mosque, which has had a classroom extension built onto it and heating installed.
SSgt Stephenson explained:
Children can now study in the winter and the community can pray in the mosque in relative comfort.
Finally, on open area of waste ground has been transformed with the addition of a football pitch, a cricket strip and a volleyball court. This has turned an otherwise unusable piece of ground into a thriving meeting place for the community.
SSgt Stephenson said:
The area is now awash with the local community congregating here, especially on Fridays which is their equivalent of a weekend.
So far SSgt Stephenson and his team have completed 46 projects with many still in the pipeline. He has recently discussed the provision of sewing machines and the establishment of chicken farms at a shura with the local malik and mullah. This should assist the local people in becoming self-sufficient and thereby gaining their independence.
SSgt Stephenson said:
We feel that we’ve managed to positively influence the surrounding communities with our work and hope that we can sustain the strong relationships that we have built, not only for the next regiment, but more importantly to give the local people a chance of having something they never thought was possible for the community, a self-sustainable lifestyle.