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Edm Journal: Canadians introduce Kandahar boys to


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Kids need to have fun, too

Canadians introduce Kandahar boys to soccer

Jim Farrell

The Edmonton Journal

Friday, September 30, 2005


CREDIT: Jim Farrell, The Journal

BIRTH OF A BECKHAM?: Capt. Lisa Haveman -- slowed by the weight of her body armour, helmet, 20-kg equipment vest and rifle -- attempts to go one-on-one with 12-year-old Noorak Ahmed in a Kandahar schoolyard.


CREDIT: Jim Farrell, The Journal

Ahmed takes delight in his school's new acquisition.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Hundreds of schoolboys had their dreams come true on Thursday when Canadian troops dropped off 160 soccer balls so the youngsters could prepare for a November tournament.

One teacher asked why the Canadians were catering to the kids' hunger for sports when they still need pens and writing materials, schools are overcrowded and short of books, and many Afghans are hungry.

Just look at the kids' smiles, Maj. Andrew Lutes answered. These children need to experience the joys and games of childhood a while longer.

"This is part of their education," said Lutes, a member of the Edmonton-based 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

"The game of soccer will teach them about teamwork, but it will also be fun. For 30 years children in this country grew up without education and sports."

Lutes and the two dozen soldiers who accompanied him are based at the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Compound in Kandahar.

Included in the PRT's mandate is the fostering of a sense of trust and safety among local residents. The children are a favoured target of that campaign.

Under the Kandahar-based Taliban regime that was overthrown four years ago, all regular public education was banned. The only educational institutes were madrassas where young boys learned to read and write, memorize the Koran and recite its passages back to their teachers.

All music, television, videos and most sports and games including kite flying were banned. The large stadium on the southern edge of this city was taken over by the Taliban government to be used for public executions and the amputation of the hands of people caught stealing.

The soccer balls handed out by Lutes and his soldiers told this city's students that times have changed. The balls bore colour images of books, of sunrises and of families being protected by the new Afghan National Police Force.

Accompanying the images were words like "hurry, the sun is up -- go to school," and "education is power."

For the next six weeks, students at the 16 boys' schools that will share the balls will use them to hone their soccer skills. On Nov. 11, 72 teams of boys aged eight to 12 will fight it out in a week-long soccer tournament. The tournament will culminate in a championship game held in the stadium whose playing field was soaked in blood during the Taliban era.

When he spoke to the teachers of the schools that will compete in the November tournament, Lutes didn't mention the stadium's history. He spoke about the future.

"Next year, 2006, the World Cup of soccer will be held in Germany, but Afghanistan will not be represented.

"Perhaps in eight years, in 2014, children at this school will have the opportunity to play in that tournament."

Almost half of Kandahar's school population is exempt from those kinds of dreams, however. There is no soccer tournament planned for the girls, now or in the foreseeable future. Schoolgirls in Kandahar aren't allowed to play sports, in keeping with Afghanistan's conservative Islamic traditions.

"We spoke to some of the girls about what activities they would like instead," Capt. Lisa Haveman said after visiting one girls' school. "They're going to do embroidery and textile work."



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Yes, the boys on the ground can make a huge difference. Good on them. I only hope we don't have to meet these kids in 2013 for that 1/2 spot contested between CONCACAF and AFC.

Perhaps the 6 gajillion bureaucrats looking after the 50,000 or so treaty band members could follow their lead and drop some balls on reserves here in Canada.

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