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Paktika youth shura addresses Quran burning, province’s education needs

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More than 300 of Paktika’s youth gathered for a shura hosted by the Ministry of Information and Culture April 4.

Paktika’s youth, representing several districts around the province, came together to learn about their government, share ideas and voice concerns.

Najia Bakerkhel, Paktika’s only female Wolesi Jirga representative, addressed the attendees. The Wolesi Jirga, also known as the House of the People, is responsible for making and ratifying laws, as well as approving the actions of the president.

“I am proud of Paktika’s youth for not participating in the violent response to the burning of the Quran at the Florida church, like elsewhere in Afghanistan,” Bakerkhel said. “That was a cruel act that was neither representative of U.S. policy, nor of American culture.”

Bakerkhel’s remarks were met by resounding applause from the audience. Several young people asked questions about the state of education in Paktika. Students noted the importance of well-trained teachers, and said they are lacking in many parts of the province.

Despite those and other significant roadblocks, Paktika’s students showed tremendous potential recently when more than 300 students passed the Afghan University Entrance Examination. These are the best results in Paktika’s history.

Temor Shah Yesaqhzai, Afghanistan deputy minister of youth affairs, is in the process of holding youth shuras in each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Paktika marked the 21st province on Yesaqhzai’s journey.

Youth in Afghanistan are defined as boys and girls ages 14 to 30, and make up 68 percent of the population in Afghanistan.

“You have to work,” Yesaqhzai told the young people of Paktika. “If education were as far away as China, you would have to go and get it.”

Paktika Gov. Moheebullah Samim equated the youth to being the backbone of their country, and explained that he wants them to have good morals and good wisdom.

U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Mike Hammond, Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team member from Huntsville, Ala., addressed the youth as well to explain how the PRT works alongside their government, and how the PRT is different from military units who conduct routine patrols or combat missions around the province.

“Our team works closely with the Afghan government to help bring economic and political stability to Paktika province,” Hammond explained. “We do this by providing engineers, doctors and other professionals to provide funding for projects and professional training in the province.

“We don’t build anything ourselves,” he continued. “Every project you see is being constructed by your fellow Afghans. We also helped with the development of the Sharana library for the youth. This library was built entirely by and for the people of Afghanistan.”

Following the shura, students shared their thoughts on education, security and employment.

“I want the government to provide a better education system in Paktika,” said Abdullah Jan, a 12-year-old student who attended the youth shura. “The education system in Paktika is good through primary school, but in high school we don’t have the professional, educated teachers.”

Yesaqhzai plans to hold the 2nd National Youth Expo in Kabul in August. The expo will be similar to a project fair where provincial directors of information and culture can learn about programs for boys and girls. Directors may then take those public health, agriculture and security programs back to their respective provinces for local expos.

“I have a big feeling about Afghanistan,” Jan added. “I really like the Afghan national security forces like the Afghan National Army. When I grow up I will help my country.”

Article by 1st Lt. Emily Chilson, Combined Joint Task Force 101