The organisation Grünhelme e.V. (Green Helmets) supports the construction and reconstruction of houses, streets, villages, hospitals, schools and religious facilities in crisis and war-torn areas. We have been working in Afghanistan since our foundation in 2003, particularly focusing on establishing educational facilities, as education is the first vital step in promoting growth and social change in Afghanistan. In total, we have contributed to over thirty schools being set up in the Golram and Karoq districts of western Afghanistan.
As part of our work, it is vital to cooperate hand in hand with Muslims, Christians and followers of other religions. In addition to fostering economic and social development in Afghanistan, we also aim to highlight that Islam as a religion is not synonymous with the Taliban, that Christians and Muslims are not that different and that they are capable of living and working together in harmony. We are able to efficiently implement our projects by working closely with Afghans on the ground. One prime example is the help we are receiving from the mullah of a village in Karoq district. He is also the director of the Konrad Adenauer School, which was built by the Green Helmets and opened in April 2006. In addition, he is also involved in establishing other educational facilities, such as schools for women and evening schools for men.
We rely on support from the people of Afghanistan when it comes to realising our plans. This is the only way for us to work effectively and develop projects which are really needed. To this end, we maintain close ties with local mayors, such as the mayor of Demogul. The residents in this village often complained about water shortages. In order to remedy the problem, dams have to be built between two mountain ranges and a ravine, allowing rain and melt water from the mountains to be collected. Our teams of German and Afghan volunteers are able to quickly and carefully implement our projects after due consultation with local residents.
The education minister for Herat Province is therefore delighted by the positive development in Karoq district. The Green Helmets team has built a total of 14 schools for over 20,000 pupils in this area.
This puts an end to teaching in tents or in the hot midday sun, giving children the opportunity to work in the concentrated environment of bright, cool rooms, protected against the blowing sand. The thirst for knowledge among Afghans is the driving force behind this development. Without their willingness to learn, these projects would have no effect. However, in addition to the range of education in girls-only and mixed schools, the education provided to boys and men is also vital. For them, illegal work and migration continue to pose a problem due to the lack of jobs. As a result, the towns Pahlewan Piri, Chagmagh, Armalek and Sangur are now almost exclusively populated by women and children, as almost all men capable of working have travelled to Iran or southern Afghanistan to help with the opium harvest. Many of these men are shot at the border between Afghanistan and Iran by border police, but despite the danger, hundreds of thousands of young men still try their luck every year.
Progress in the education system has also been made in the small town of Pahlewan Piri, which is around 15 kilometres from Herat. There were only a handful of female pupils in the town who attended school for more than six years, as there were only male teachers at the local school. This was a real problem as girls going through puberty are not allowed to be taught by males. However, girls attended school in Iran during the war, and some for longer than six years. Two of these educated women returned to Pahlewan Piri as teachers in English, Farsi (Persian, which is also spoken in Herat), history and biology at the all-girls school we built. The motivation of many of the female pupils is boosted by the fact that a woman, Chancellor Angela Merkel, succeeded in governing a large country like Germany. This achievement helps bolster their self-esteem and desire to make the most of opportunities for education. The head teacher is proud that female pupils can at least graduate year ten. He is thankful for the support and efforts of the German government and the Green Helmets, paving the way for the first high school pupils to graduate from the school in Pahlewan Piri. He hopes that these future students will come back as doctors or teachers after their studies and continue to help boost development.
The costs of building a new school are comparatively low. For 40,000 euros, a team of Green Helmets can build a school from stone, mortar and earthquake-proof foundations with eight to ten classrooms for three hundred to six hundred pupils, as well as two staff rooms. The number of rooms can be varied according to the size of the district and the number of children, young people and adults who want to make use of the facility. With the help of additional funding from the Ministry of Education and our donations and supporters, existing schools can also be improved, renovated and expanded.
In order to ensure the further education of school graduates and the training of Afghan vocational trainers and teachers, establishing further education institutes is vital. Domestic and particularly foreign companies as well as private investors should also invest in Afghanistan and establish businesses here in order to improve the job prospects of the Afghan population.
The author is a doctor of theology as well as a journalist. He worked for Deutschlandfunk for many years. In 1979, he founded the German emergency doctor organisation Cap Anamur and was chairman until 1998 and spokesperson for five years after that. Up to 1986, the organisation’s aid ships saved 11,488 refugees from boats in the South China Sea. He has been chairman of Grünhelme e.V. since 2003.