Story and photos by Sgt. Andrea Merritt
7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Female Engagement Team members with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, helped Afghan youths expand their knowledge of the world through a cultural diversity youth shurah, or meeting, at Combat Outpost Pinach, Kunar province, Afghanistan, June 23.
Each week, children from the surrounding area gather at COP Pinach to learn about world cultures through presentations given by the FET, and participate in crafts and sports sessions that coincide with the day’s lesson.
“The goal is to promote international awareness among youths through sports and crafts to lay the necessary foundation to create tomorrow’s global citizens,” said Cpl. Isidra Reyna, noncommissioned officer in charge of the FET.
“We hope to create an atmosphere of global empathy and understanding of cultural similarities and differences,” Reyna said. “And, of course, have fun.”
Last summer, the cultural support team that operated in the area ran a similar program, playing sports like cricket, basketball and soccer with local children.
Considered a success, the FET decided to bring the initiative back, adding an educational spin on the program.
“The commander liked our idea of a culture class,” said Reyna. “We expanded it to include sports and crafts and games dealing with a specific country.”
The program provides the children a break from their daily lives and an opportunity to continue learning while on break from school.
In previous weeks, the youths, who range from ages 5-12, learned about Mexico and China; but during the FET’s most recent visit, the lesson focused on the wonders from “the Land Down Under,” in the world’s only country continent — Australia.
After seeing pictures of people, animals and landscapes unique to the region, the children constructed paper bag puppets, and played games common among children in Australia.
Since starting the program in June, the FET has seen a tremendous growth in interest, said Spc. Andrea Weatherman, a FET member who hails from Lewisville, Texas.
“We had 80 children show up this morning, 60 last week, and 32 the first week,” Weatherman said.
In addition to gaining popularity among local children, the program also caught the attention of Afghan leaders in the area.
The district sub-governor expressed a desire for the FET to translate its lesson plans and share them with local teachers to incorporate into their curriculums.
Just as the event has become a hit with the local youths, it has also become something that the FET, interpreters and other volunteers within the unit look forward to each week.
“It’s a nice break from going out on patrols — being around the children and just having fun,” said Pfc. Blake Adair, a forward observer with Company A.
As the program came to a close for the day, children lined up and said goodbye in the Australian Aboriginal language they learned in class.
Although exhausted and covered in sweat from playing games such as “Stick in the Mud,” the Australian version of freeze tag, they left with a greater knowledge of how children in other parts of the world live and play.
For some children, learning about different cultures has inspired them to continue studying about the world on their own.
“I am interested in getting on the Internet and learning more,” said 12-year-old Mohammed. “I knew it was a big world and that there are a lot of different people in it.”