Small village leader makes big difference
February 3, 2013
FOREWARD OPERATING BASE SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan - The village of Baqi Tanna, Spin Boldak District, Afghanistan may look like just another small village. A speckle of buildings made out of earth and bricks with a road of dirt running through the middle.
The villagers gather in small circles and the children play outside, feet and faces covered in a thin dust that the members of Combined Task Force 2-23 refer to as moon dust. It is whipped up by the winds, covers everything and disguises what this village really is.
The soldiers of CTF 2-23 arrived at Baqi Tanna Jan. 30 along with the Afghan Uniform Police district chief, the Afghan Border Police Quick Reaction Force Kandak commander and the district Executive Director to meet with a man who is transforming his village into a model of success.
Haji Razaq, the village elder, is making a big impact by turning a small village into a shining example of how the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is working to better the lives of its citizens from the smallest villages to its bigger cities.
"He has done a lot of great things for his village," said Army Cpt. Megan E. Piene, the commander of A Company, 81st Civil Affairs Battalion from Ft. Hood Texas, which makes up part of Spin Boldak District Support Team. "The key is that he has been able to utilize the GIRoA system to get all these great things."
Some of the great things Razaq has accomplished are the construction of a 1st through 12th grade school for boys and girls and a medical clinic that never turns anyone away. Soon there will be an all girls' school and a religious school, or mudrasa, which some parents prefer their children to attend.
"What he has noticed is that a lot of parents have been sending their kids to Pakistan," said Piene. "Unfortunately a lot of those kids come into contact with insurgents."
The mudrasa will allow children to receive a religious education without leaving Afghanistan and the safety of Baqi Tanna, which has resisted the influence of the Taliban.
"He's insulated his village and his villagers from insurgent influence," said Piene. "There was really was no reason for us to patrol down there because he is doing such a good job of protecting his people."
The village has drawn the attention of International Security Assistance Force and district leaders because of its successes. When Razaq reached out to Cpt. Piene to set up a meeting to show what he had accomplished it was recognized as a chance to get Afghan district leaders more involved.
"Our job is to identify what we call resilient leaders," said Piene. "We identify key people and connect them to the government."
"This type of stability operations, security assistance, is all about relationships," said Lt. Col. Thomas M. Feltey, the commander of 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment and CTF 2-23. "We've worked very hard establishing relationships and nurturing those relationships and we are starting to see some tangible benefits."
The relationships garnered at the meeting here involve familiar associates and new partners. Lt. Col. Haji Janan, the QRF commander, and Razaq have had previous meetings but Col. Abduhl Quayoum, the district chief of police, has never visited before.
"I wanted them to come here because they are the best people in this area for security," said Razaq. "They do a good job."
"Col. Quayoum was the lead guy," said Feltey. "This is his area of operations."
Feltey ensured that the key leaders in the area could attend by using his relationships with them to gather support for the meeting. It was an opportunity for him to be an observer while the Afghan government leaders discussed how they could help each other.
"All we're doing is connecting Afghans with Afghans, and helping them develop relationships so they know who the key and strong players are within their own communities," said Feltey. "All I was doing was pulling them in and showing them that we are just one team."
"I was so happy to see all of the people that came," said Razaq. "The meeting was good and I was happy to share with everyone."
Razaq does a lot of sharing to make sure his village is taken care of. He donated his land for the schools and clinic to be built. He uses his own resources to travel to Kabul to ensure that projects progress. He shares his knowledge with other elders so that they can have the same success that he does by working with
"Baqi Tanna is just a great example of what goes well if you're willing to work," said Piene. " Economic prosperity will come to your village and your village will be ok."