ISAF Chief Lends Support to Afghan High School

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.

Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, com­man­der of Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force, shakes the hand of Prin­ci­pal Aziz Royesh dur­ing a vis­it to Mare­fat High School near Kab­ul. The school’s stu­dents pre­sent­ed Allen with a paint­ing that depicts nomads. The stu­dents’ ges­ture was in response to Allen’s per­son­al gift of $1,700 for 10 annu­al stu­dent schol­ar­ships. The paint­ing is dis­played in the ISAF head­quar­ters build­ing in Kab­ul.
Cour­tesy pho­to
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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)

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