UK and Afghan troops help open school in Helmand

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British soldiers and Afghan National Army (ANA) warriors have helped a crucial school open its doors for the first time in Helmand province.

Staff at Khorgajat School, in Nahr-e Saraj district, have been able to start work this year after an eighteen-month struggle to get the school built finally came to an end.

The build was co-ordinated by the local British Military Stabilisation Support Team (MSST), a tri-Service unit that co-ordinates reconstruction projects.

The MSST ran a tender process for local contractors to build the school and, with a winner in place, construction got underway at a total cost of 500,000 Afghanis, or £6,500, donated through UK military charity the Afghan Appeal Fund.

Now completed, the school boasts eight classrooms, a headmaster's office, a teachers' staff room, including a store room, a night watchman's office, and toilets.

There is also a large playground, and a well just outside the school gates, providing the children with plenty of water whilst they learn.

A gravel path and a set of steps leading up to the school have been constructed, along with additional solar lights to illuminate the path.

The efforts to get the school open were led by 1st Battalion The Rifles (1 RIFLES) through the summer of 2011, and were taken up by the current British company in the area - B Company, 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment - when 1 RIFLES finished their deployment.

Before opening though a number of hurdles had to be overcome to get the school working, as even after the building was up there remained just one teacher in the area.

The Officer Commanding B Company, Major Ross Noott, held a shura, or meeting, at the school to discuss the problem, after which local tribal elder Haji Essa Mohammed visited Lashkar Gah to recruit a second teacher.

The ANA held another shura, led by local commander Lieutenant Jawid and Haji Essa Mohammed, to highlight the need for education, and the local community took on the responsibility for running the school.

Major Noott said:

"It is fantastic to see the local nationals take responsibility for key development of education. It has been great to witness this dawning of realisation that they can take control of their futures and the improvement of the lives of their children."

RAF Regiment Sergeant Neil Shinner is part of the local MSST that worked on the school project. He said:

"The opening of Khorgajat School has been a real team effort and I feel proud to have been part of the process that will provide the children with the opportunity to receive an education. A real legacy has been achieved in this tragically scarred part of Afghanistan."