By Natela CutterSeptember 19, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The commanding general of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, visited an art exhibit and book signing Sept. 16, featuring artwork of young gifted students.
The exhibit was organized in part by the local Marefat High School whose students had their artwork published in a book of Afghan proverbs under a project funded by a U.S. Embassy grant.
"You can really see the soul of the country in these pictures," said Allen, referring to the student's artwork, while touring the art exhibit. "Some of this work reminds me of the places I have been," commented Allen, looking at a painting of a caravan of camels in the Gobi desert, Mongolia.
To show support for the education of Afghan children, Allen wrote a personal check for 10 annual scholarships amounting to $1,700. In response, the children and director of the Marefat High School, Aziz Royesh, presented a gift of a large painting that had reminded the general of his time spent in Mongolia.
Allen's attention had been drawn to the Marefat High School fundraiser by Navy Capt. Edward Zellem, an Afghanistan/Pakistan (AFPAK) Hands program member and director of the ISAF Presidential Information Coordination Center detachment at the presidential palace in Kabul.
Zellem started to collect Dari proverbs while learning the language as a part of the program that was initiated by Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 2009.
"Proverbs are a very important part of the Afghan culture," said Zellem, who worked with Marefat High School students to illustrate the book of 151 Dari proverbs collected and translated over the past 18 months.
The 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 the Marefat High School, which enrolled 2,600 boys and girls in 2011, Zellem has given the school a copyright license to republish and sell the book for profit in Afghanistan, with proceeds going to assist students of the school with their annual tuition.
"This school is progressive and independent thought is strongly encouraged,' said Zallem, explaining that the school was founded in 1994 in Pakistan by Afghan refugees, but moved in 2001 to Kabul after 9/11. The school, which instructs girls and allows them to think of themselves as individuals who will have future working careers, was attacked in 2008 by Mullahs because of its progressive curriculum.
"I want to be a journalist," said Jahira Jakari, a 15-year old young girl, who sold several of her paintings Friday.
The book and ongoing relationship with Marefat High School is a direct result of the AFPAK Hands program. AFPAK Hands is designed as a way to build trust with the military and local populations in those two countries and to speed the transition of responsibilities to Afghan forces.
In Zellem's case, his job is to provide and coordinate timely and accurate information on strategic level events to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and to facilitate situational 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."
The gift, depicting a caravan of people on camels in Mongolia, immediately found its new home in the halls of ISAF headquarters.