KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 23, 2011 — Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the commanding general of International Security Assistance Force, visited an art exhibit featuring the work of gifted Afghan students near here last week.
The exhibit was partly organized by Marefat High School, located west of Kabul, whose students had their artwork published in a book of Afghan proverbs through a project funded by a U.S. Embassy grant. “You can really see the soul of the country in these pictures,” Allen said at the exhibit.
To show support for the education of Afghan children, Allen wrote a $1,700 personal check to fund 10 annual student scholarships. In response, the children and the high school’s principal, Aziz Royesh, presented Allen with a large painting.
“Some of this work reminds me of the places I have been,” said the general, as he examined the painting of Kuchi nomads in Afghanistan.
Allen’s attention had been drawn to the high school’s fundraiser by Navy Capt. Edward Zellem, an Afghanistan Pakistan Hands program member and director of the ISAF Presidential Information Coordination Center detachment at the presidential palace here.
Zellem started to collect Dari proverbs while learning the language as a part of the program that was initiated in 2009 by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Proverbs are a very important part of the Afghan culture,” said Zellem, who had worked with Marefat High School students to illustrate the book of 151 Dari proverbs that were collected and translated over the past 18 months.
The book’s initial publishing run and distribution is funded by a U.S. Embassy grant, with the first 40,000 complimentary copies distributed throughout Afghanistan as a “gift from the American people.”
To support Marefat High School, which enrolled 2,600 boys and girls this year, Zellem provided the school with a copyright license to republish and sell the book for profit in Afghanistan, with proceeds going to assist students with their annual tuition.
“This school is progressive and independent thought is strongly encouraged,” Zellem said. Marefat High School, he said, was founded in 1994 in Pakistan by Afghan refugees, but after 9/11 it was moved to Kabul.
The school teaches its young female students to think of themselves as individuals who will have future working careers. In 2008, the school was attacked by mullahs because of its progressive curriculum.
“I want to be a journalist,” said Jahira Jakari, a 15-year-old girl who sold several of her paintings at the exhibition.
The ongoing relationship with Marefat High School is a direct result of the Afghanistan Pakistan Hands program, which aims to build trust with the military and local populations and to speed the transition of responsibilities to Afghan forces.
Zellem’s job is to provide and coordinate timely and accurate information on strategic-level events to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and to facilitate understanding between the Presidential Palace and ISAF leadership.
Before departing the event, Allen patted Zellem on the shoulder and said, “You are not leaving until I finish my tour.”
Allen’s painting is displayed in the halls of ISAF headquarters here.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)