"We could have brought machinery and so on, things like that to build that road, and it would have been done faster ... but we don’t want to do that. We want the people to work on these projects, we want to create jobs, and in the end it’s to their advantage, and I think they understand that."The above quote concerning an ambitious road construction project in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan reminded of a famous proverb about the power in teaching a man to fish.
Canadian and Afghan troops are providing security for the construction project but it's the locals who are shouldering the bulk of the labour. What was originally envisioned as a 6.5-kilometre stretch of road to be completed by this October has now turned into plans to pave 22 kilometres of dirt track that runs through the heart of the district known as the birthplace of the Taliban.
And while I'm both pleased and proud with the Canadian contributions in funding and security to the project, this is what made it stand out for me.
Once the project is fully up and running in the next several weeks, an estimated 450 local nationals will be working on a daily basis, using little more than wheelbarrows, shovels and muscle — resources they have at their disposal, rather than the more efficient but costly high-tech methods familiar to western commuters.Although progress is slow — just 500 metres per month - the end result should be a road that lasts for generations.
The idea is to imbue them with the skills to do the work long after coalition forces have left, said Lt.-Col. Dave Corbould, the Canadian battle group commander.
"We’re teaching them how to build a road with the materials they have, and they’re now running it; we’re just helping it along," Corbould said.
"It’s building them a skill that will be enduring, that will last a long time, so that when repairs eventually need to be made to the road or they want to build more roads on their own, they’re taught the skills that they can use here, without having to have all the advanced heavy machinery."
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."