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The Children Ask Soldiers for Footballs and Water

Szöveg: |  2008. június 2. 9:53

For the first time in the history of PRT rotations, the Hungarian Defence Forces Provincial Reconstruction Team (HDF PRT) has implemented a 4-day operational task in Baghlan Province. The fourth rotation pays special attention to distant zones rarely seen by troops. In the scope of the task that was planned to take 4 days the convoy visited the mountain villages in the northeasternly part of Baghlan Province, which are 150 kilometres from the camp of HDF PRT and are very difficult to reach.

Although the wild and picturesque landscape, the barren hills trenched by riverbeds, and the areas untouched by human hand in Baghlan Province, the area of which equals two-thirds of the Transdanubian region of Hungary, are a beautiful sight for the beholder, but they make transportation more difficult. On the first day the column bumped along the rocky roads leading through the mountains and in the riverbeds of the valleys for 13 hours until they reached their destination in the village of Doaw, 138 kilometres from the camp.

"We were lodged in the police station where we were sleeping in the yard, next to the vehicles. We watched in rotation, in which both the local police and Afghan troops assisted us. In the yard there was a mosque and the mullah’s morning prayer woke us up at sunrise on the loudspeaker, and when we completed our tasks for the day the ’tattoo’ was sounded by the mullah again, with his song in the sunset" – remembered his experiences the deputy commander of the 1st Liaisoning Team.

On the following day the columns set off for south, and on the third day for north, into four directions. They have mapped the area, the roads, villages and contacted the magistrates, police chiefs, school headmasters and teachers of the settlements. In the course of the conversations the troops have assessed what the settlements needed the most and how HDF PRT could provide the best possible support to the people living there. We add these pieces of information to our database which will provide a basis for our future work. Upon the arrival of the liaisoning team to a settlement they have started out their job by visiting the governor and the police chief of the community.

Following introduction and friendly talks HDF PRT troops – relying on the advice of mountain guides – presented the most needy families with food supplies to show their good intentions. This winter was extremely cold and there are no food or reserves left. Therefore flour, cooking oil, rice and beans, the contents of the package are a great help to any family. Food distribution made it easier for soldiers to earn the trust of the population. From security considerations it is important that the locals see and understand the peaceful intention, that these armed strangers in uniform have come to help, and not to fight.

"In this task the fact that we ordered the lorries transporting the food packages from civilian entrepreneurs was a new element. They made it simpler, faster and safer for us to beat the distance on unfamiliar mountain roads than our lorries would have" – said the non-commissioned officer of the CIMIC branch.

Supporting education is one of the priority tasks of HDF PRT. In the schools made out of tents the children study similar subjects than Hungarian kids do. The key subjects are mathematics, reading and writing, and also English is taught in many places. The deputy commander of the 3rd Liaisoning Team added: "We visit schools, contact school headmasters and teachers on an ongoing basis to be able to survey how we could assist the development of education the most. The overwhelming majority of the people we ask reply the same: they need tents, school supplies, balls/footballs, and wells."

Tents are not lasting and are easily ruined by the extreme weather conditions. Furthermore there are more and more pupils in each class – due to the growing population –, education can be more comfortable and efficient if there are more classrooms. It is difficult to get exercise books and pens, and they don’t sell footballs anywhere.

"Wherever we are going the children waving by the side of the road ask the soldiers of the convoy for footballs or water" – as one of the troops in charge of securing the column has shared his experiences with us.

Nevertheless, the biggest problem in the whole area of Baghlan province is water supply: following a warm and dry spring, the July draughts arrive, when the water level of rivers drops considerably and irrigation becomes almost impossible. In this period the water flow of wells also drops to the minimum level. In the communities where there isn’t a drilled well the locals drink the unpurified water of rivers and brooks, or in a better case they boil it and make tea. But it is still better than having no water around at all, like we have seen in other districts. After drilling wells, the construction of roads and bridges would be key tasks in Afghanistan. Bad transport conditions hinder communications and cooperation between settlements, which has a negative effect on their development.

"I was puzzled to learn that the children and the teachers in Khost-Wa Fereng walk 10 kilometres across the mountains to get to school. This distance would be significantly shorter if a bridge was erected between the school and the community" – said the non-commissioned officer of the PSYOPS branch.

The people of this land are industrious, they work very long hours in the fields where they grow rice, wheat and fodder plants. Compared with other districts there are more rivers in this area which enables irrigation, thus agricultural work guarantees a living for many families. The troops have carried out a survey about Hungarian soldiers’ recognition and acceptance by the people living in the northeastern zone.


As the commander of the 1st Liaisoning Team has put it in his own words: "If the convoy halted in the middle of nowhere, there were at least thirty people surrounding us in thirty seconds, which is usual in Afghanistan. I don’t know where these people came from and how they knew about our arrival, nevertheless, they greeted us with curiosity and they were friendly. We asked them if they knew who the Hungarian soldiers were – somebody said from the crowd that he’d heared about them, they are the ones who build a school in Khost-Wa Fereng."

Hungarian troops have proven it on several occasions in this mission that they stand their ground even under difficult circumstances, and are capable of acting as a channel for the support of the Hungarian people, their goodwill and urge to help the people of Afghanistan.