On Campus

Canadians to build Great Wall of Kandahar University

3 Km perimeter to make campus safer; keep out nomadic goat herders

The Canadian government struck a deal last week with officials at Kandahar University to build a three-km perimeter of stone, brick and iron around the school campus. It has been dubbed the Great Wall of Kandahar. Construction is slated to begin within weeks and officials hope that by mid-fall, the new wall will address a litany of concerns hampering the school’s development.

The school blames its wide-open campus on a dusty plain for a vast assortment of woes, which range from serious safety issues to the simpler frustrations of life in chaotic Kandahar City.

Least among their concerns are the nomadic goat-herders who have been erecting tents and grazing cattle on the campus lawn, while slowly laying claim to one piece after another of the school property.

More serious are the fears that keep young people awayespecially women.

School administrators say many women have told them they’d like to come to school, but won’t enrol because they fear attacks by those who believe women have no business in a classroom.

Females represent barely five per cent of the student body.

Administrators would also like to attract guest lecturers and visiting scholars in order to enrich the student experience at Kandahar Universitybut for now they’re hesitant to even bother sending invitations.

Then there’s robbery.

Just a few weeks ago, burglars busted into the school overnight and made off with one of its coveted electricity-generating solar panels.

The Canadians heard all these complaints and detected within them a common thread.

They agreed with the school on a possible remedy and have offered a $500,000 budget for a construction project they’ve since nicknamed the Great Wall of Kandahar.

“There are a lot of projects the university has planned,” said Capt. Tylere Couture, the military man leading the project for the Canadian government.

“But it always seems to come back to (the reality that) without a perimeter security wall, a lot of these projects either won’t get off the groundor if they do, they won’t be fully utilized because of the lack of security.”

The story of this university is like a tiny snapshot of the heartbreaking history of greater Afghanistan.

Built in 1991 in the latter days of the pro-Soviet regime, the school began with only one faculty: agriculture.

The institution was later decimated as civil war tore the country apart: teachers weren’t getting paid, there were chronic staff shortages and classes were frequently cancelled as Afghanistan slipped into a turbulent nightmare.

Then came the Taliban.

Women were banished from the classrooms, and the ruling mullahs had little interest in subjects other than Islamic studies. However, they ushered in an era of relative security.

At least teachers were getting paid again, and the school added a faculty of medicine in 1994 and of civil engineering in 2000.

Now, under the post-9-11 Hamid Karzai regime, enrolment has shot up from 150 students in the late 1990s to over 1,200 today. The school now has a faculty of education and plans to add economics and Islamic law.

But security is once again a concern.

Vice-chancellor Abdurrahim Farahi says it’s not that students are being attacked by insurgents, but that a general climate of fear and instability is dragging the place down.

He says the wall would help in a variety of ways.

It would help provide an enclosed area on which to build a soccer field, instead of having nomads digging tents into the campus lawn, he says.

Guests from abroad might feel safer to visit and share their knowledge with the students. It might attract more women than the 95 currently enrolled at the school.

And, more young people from Kandahar’s rural areas would feel safe coming to study in town and sleep in a campus dormitory, he says.

“We’re hoping to have such interesting activities in the future,” Farahi said. “But for the moment we do not have such activities.

“The boundary wall is very, very important. It will bring big changes to the university.”

A school band is not on the university’s immediate radar screen. But the students were excited when a South Korean university recently brought over a cultural exhibition that included musicians.

Administrators are hoping a Canadian university might want to establish a more formal partnership.

In other regions of Afghanistan, schools have established partnerships with Harvard University as well as academic institutions in Kansas, California and Berlin.

Because Canada and its military have the lead role in Kandahar province, the faculty here hope a Canadian institution might take some interest in helping them.

Maybe they could help review the school’s curriculum, provide some books, deliver a few guest lectures by teleconference, and perhaps even offer a scholarship or two, says one faculty member.

There aren’t many opportunities here for young people to pursue post-graduate studies, says the dean of engineering.

“It would be a great achievement if a Canadian university would partner with us,” said faculty head Roshaan Wolusmal.

In the meantime, his engineering students will get some on-hands experience at building a wall.

The agreement with the Canadians was contingent on students from the engineering faculty participating in the land-surveying, soil-testing, and the building phase of the project.

School officials had been negotiating details with the Canadian government over the spring, and they reached a final agreement on Canada Day.

The Canadian Press