Insurgents are blamed for destroying or closing nearly 400 schools in Southwest Afghanistan, causing the overall literacy rate to plummet to a range of 12 to 15 percent.
The rate is even lower for young women and girls.
“In 2005 there were no schools open. Now we have 20,000 girls attending schools in Helmand and 85,000 students,” said Major Nina D’Amato who runs the Marine Corps education initiative in the region.
“If you want anything to move you have to create literate people,” said D’Amato explaining why military leaders are investing so much time and money on education projects.
More than 100 schools have re-opened in Helmand Province. All of the classrooms are full which leads to another challenge. Schools often run low on basic supplies.
Retired Marine and Vietnam veteran Richard Dinse is determined to solve the problem.
“They are no different than us. They are just in a tough situation with a war going on day in and day out and that's how these kids have to grow up,” said Dinse.
He's launched a campaign to get the word out about the Adopt-A-School Helmand project, an effort to get service organizations, businesses, and schools to donate supplies to Afghan children.
Faith Lutheran Elementary School in Vista was one of the first to pitch in and help.
“They needed pencils, rulers, protractors, colored pencils, and I looked at the list we give our students here to get, it wasn't even that list,” said Principal Karen Jonas. "It was just very basic."
The school collected enough supplies for 200 students.
The service project also made the children of deployed servicemembers feel like could help their moms and dads accomplish their mission.
“This gives them an opportunity to see that 'Wow, this is really making a difference' and' I'm going to see the results',” Dinse said.
MajGen Richard Mills, the top military commander in Helmand Province believes those small acts of kindness will have a big impact on how many young men local troops will have to face in combat.
“They do it sometimes because they have no other options, there are no other avenues open to them,” Mills said. “Education gives them that avenue.”
If you’d like more information on how to participate in the Adopt a School Helmand Project contact Richard Dinse at RichardDinse@cox.net .