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Like this boy from a village in Deh Chopan district, many children in Afghanistan do not have the resources to attend school. A program called 'Backpacks for Afghanistan,' coordinated by the 649th Regional Support Group, aims to combat the country's less than 30 percent literacy rate by collecting materials and providing school supply kits to teachers and students.

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- In a country where education was once outlawed for many children by the Taliban, U.S. forces work to help rebuild Afghanistan's education system that has been devastated from 25 years of war and an unstable government.

Units spread throughout the region are doing their part for the betterment of Afghanistan. U.S. forces are building schools for boys and girls as they attempt to reestablish the education system. The 649th Regional Support Group located here is working with the local community to provide school supplies for teachers and students in the Kandahar province.

"There is nothing more rewarding than watching a child learn," said 2nd Lt. Shaela Bresnan, Backpacks for Afghanistan program coordinator, from Indianola, Iowa. "Unfortunately, children here lack the opportunities to educate themselves. Even when they have access to a school that they are able to attend, they do not have the physical resources to get the most out of their education."

Backpacks for Afghanistan is a program started by the 649th Regional Support Group meant to meet the needs of students and teachers. Local students will receive backpacks with five pencils, three pens, two colored pencils, one pencil sharpener, two erasers, two notebooks and two folders. A kit will also be available for teachers. It will provide them with classroom equipment such as world maps, construction paper and small chalk boards.

"When I was a little boy, if someone had given me a pen instead of a gun, this country would be a better place," said Afghan Col. Haji Toor Jan, Afghanistan National Police security commander of civil affairs.

The 649th RSG has set a goal to collect 5,000 backpacks and 200 teacher kits in six months. The program started early August. The RSG will work with coalition forces and Afghan forces to distribute the supplies.

"We hope to reach as many students as possible within the Kandahar area," said Bresnan.

Coalition troops in the southern region of Afghanistan build and repair schools in local villages. The 649th RSG will supply every student attending these new and refurbished schools. Afghan forces will also distribute school supplies to areas where no coalition forces are present.

"If you change the life of a child, you change the world," said Sgt. 1st Class Elaine Holten, a Backpacks for Afghanistan organizer from Bonifay, Fla.

In a society where the literacy rate is less than 30 percent of the population, all Afghan citizens have the opportunity to attend school. Coalition forces continue to develop programs to improve the current education system.

"The program is very good for our [Afghanistan's] future," said Toor Jan. "Our people will one day have doctors, pilots and engineers. This will be our future. "

Backpacks for Afghanistan allows everyone to participate in building a future for generations. Many organizations, churches and schools in the U.S. have already donated.

Page last updated Sat October 10th, 2009 at 04:51