British troops help Helmand community reopen school

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The school in Kushal Kalay closed more than three years ago when insurgent fighters wreaked havoc in the area, killing and harassing locals.…

The school in Kushal Kalay closed more than three years ago when insurgent fighters wreaked havoc in the area, killing and harassing locals. The school was ransacked and vandalised and, such was the ferocity of the attacks, that large numbers of locals fled the area.

Only recently have people started moving back, taking advantage of improved security brought about by British troops, most recently Shropshire-based 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment and their Afghan National Army partners.

As the population grew, security patrols identified the need for a school, with up to 200 children observed in the area. Some were receiving basic lessons in the mosque, but many were going without any education at all.

As a result, the Afghan Department of Education and the local wakil (people’s representative) were brought together to facilitate the refurbishment, with support from the military forces.

A subsequent problem, discovered by patrolling troops, was the reluctance of some local parents to send their children to school for fear of being targeted by insurgents.

The Royal Irish troops tackled this problem by organising a meeting with the wakil and a delegation from the Department of Education at which locals were reassured that security had improved for the long term and promised that the number of patrols in the area would be increased if necessary.

Such was the enthusiasm for the new school following the meeting that the wakil even offered his services, providing lessons until enough teachers could be recruited.

At the moment the school has a headmaster and one teacher and the wakil is still helping out.

Pupil numbers have reached more than 160 and a sports field is now being established next to the already completed playground. Through the Royal Irish, ISAF have provided some books, pens and school satchels.

Captain Gareth Semple, influence officer with C Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, said:

It is great to be able to assist in getting the school up and running. We have now contributed some carpets for the classrooms, as they were bare concrete, and helped to level the playground.

The children seem over the moon kicking a ball around with their friends for the first time in three years. The children are keen and eager to attend the classes and, as a place, Kushal Kalay has developed a real buzz now that the school is open for business.

Major Ally Harbison, Officer Commanding C Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, said:

Seeing the school open again is a fantastic result. This has sent a very strong signal, both to the local population and insurgents, that security has returned to Kushal Kalay. For our patrols too it is rewarding seeing all the children heading off to school every morning in clean clothes and with their new school bags.

Abdul Hakim, headmaster of the new school, said:

I am delighted to be teaching in Kushal Kalay. The number of children continues to increase on a daily basis - we’re having to think about getting tents to use as additional classrooms! The children are keen to learn, even after just two weeks they are showing a great improvement in their lessons.