PANJSHIR VALLEY, Afghanistan, July 15, 2009– Afghanistan’s future depends on its ability to educate youth, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today at the opening of Afghanistan’s newest elementary school here.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen joined local leaders and hundreds of children and villagers at the opening of the Peshghur School for Girls. He addressed the Afghans and spoke of the importance of education and the advantages it offers.

“I bring good wishes from the American people, in particular, to express gratitude to all of those who’ve given so much to build this school,” Mullen said. “The focus of today is opening a school for our children, and our future together depends very much on our children’s education.”

Mullen brought several boxes of school supplies to help the children get started in their new curriculums. The enthusiastic children were appreciative of the pens, paper and other supplies and seemed to look forward to getting started with their studies.

The addition of the school is a positive step forward and a good example of Afghans working to better their own future, Mullen said. He also expressed his appreciation to the villagers for voicing their concerns and addressing their own need for the school.

“May this just be one of many, many more schools to open up for our youth in Afghanistan,” the admiral said. “In this, I find the future for the Afghan people to be very bright based on the opportunities for education.”

The Peshghur school can serve between 300 to 400 students each school term and will greatly impact the community here, said Army Maj. Ian Murray, operations officer for the local provincial reconstruction team.

Better-educated youth eventually will create more opportunities for the entire community, Murray added.

“Education in the Panjshir Valley has always been important to the locals, but it’s been a struggle,” he said.

The beautiful, but harsh, terrain of Panjshir Valley has been somewhat of a blessing — and setback — for the predominantly Tajik inhabitants. During the Russian occupation and fighting in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s, Panjshir Valley was the only province to hold off Taliban attempts of control.

However, the same unruly terrain that helped provide the province’s safety prevents businesses and employment opportunities from entering the region. Building roads to reduce the valley’s isolation and hopefully increase employment is the main focus, Murray said.

“The biggest challenge in the valley is building roads, because roads bring employment and prosperity,” he said. “The valley has been historically isolated and served them well in 30 years of conflict, but now they’re trying to get their roads built so they can get to the natural resources that they have to bring more income outside of agriculture.”

Murray added that Panjshir Valley residents are patient, and understand the processes necessary to launch projects and programs, and they’re willing to wait as long as they see progress.

Projects such as the school offer the glimmer of hope Panjshir residents need to stay positive, he said.

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