Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Afghan men, hungry for work, learn how to respond to Americans

I have spent time working with Afghan Nationals while overseas and they are good people who want to provide for their families, just like the rest of us. Family means a lot in their culture.

While there are differences, I found the people I met to be warm and curious of the difference between America and Afghanistan. Here is a good insight into how we are helping the people of Afghanistan learn to be more independent and gain the insights they will need to work with those who are there to help.

Afghan men, hungry for work, learn how to respond to Americans

5:27 AM, Mar 29, 2011 by Tony Leys Desmoins Register

Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan – The bearded teacher stood in front of his 20 pupils, going through basic English questions and commands that they should understand if they’re working for the Americans here.

“What does ‘Do not enter’ mean?” the teacher, whose name is Ahmadullah, asked one of the local men seated before him. Teacher Ahmadullah, standing at left, leads a basic English class for workers at Bagram Airfield Tuesday. (

“You cannot go inside,” the man replied in heavily accented English.

“If you are stopped at a roadblock and told to get out immediately, what do you do?” Ahmadullah asked another man. “I turn back,” the man replied.

The teacher corrected him. “You get out immediately,” he said.

Ahmadullah asked a third man to stand. Then he said, “Put your hands on your head.” The man put his hands on his head. “Turn around.” The man turned around. “Get on the ground.” The man got on the ground, face down. Staff Sgt. Paul Brisbois, an Iowa National Guardsman from Des Moines, watched from off to the side. “That’s a really important one to know,” he said of the set of commands American soldiers give when they want to search an Afghan man.

Brisbois helps oversee the vetting of local workers for Bagram Airfield. About 5,000 Afghan men work on the giant base, which houses about 30,000 military members and civilians from the United States and allied countries. Most of the Afghan employees make $5 per day performing menial tasks, such as cleaning bathrooms, serving food or collecting trash.

Ahmadullah, who uses just one name, gives his hour-long daily lessons in a classroom just inside the gate where local men come into the base. The men in his class already hold entry-level jobs on the base, but they want to become certified as “escorts.” Locals with that designation can make $15 per day for overseeing up to five other Afghan workers. Brisbois is impressed by how quickly many of the Afghan men pick up basic English.

Many of them can’t read or write in any language, but they speak proficiently in two: Pashto and Dari. That’s one more than most Americans can speak, the staff sergeant noted. The men walk or bike to the base, sometimes from 10 or more miles away. Most of them are employed by private contractors. “They’re definitely willing to work,” Brisbois said. “Most people in the area want the same things Americans want. They want to have a good job, they want to make some money, and they want their families to be safe.”

Brisbois, 45, said each potential worker faces several levels of vetting, including extensive interviews by U.S. officials, such as former FBI or CIA agents. Because of security concerns, Afghan workers may not use cell phones or take pictures on base, and they are only allowed into areas where they work. Their work permits can be suspended if they break the rules.

After Ahmadullah’s class, his students said the military base offers much better opportunities than they’d find anywhere else in the area. The men said they worry that insurgents will harm them or their families for helping the Americans, though they said such retribution rarely happens. They also worry that the Americans will leave, and the jobs will disappear. “Right now, there is freedom,” Aqa Gul, 38, said through an interpreter. “If the Americans leave, it will be very bad.”

No comments: