Marines

D'Amato: 'Education transcends political narratives'

25 Jan 2011 | Lance Cpl. Damany S. Coleman

A representative from Regional Command Southwest visited Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune to pitch an eyebrow-raising idea. With a morality check and some enlightenment from Maj. Nina D'Amato, education portfolio manager, RCSW, the proposal was embedded in the hearts and minds of those in attendance.

D’Amato asked officers’ wives, teachers, community leaders and members of local organizations for their aid in the Adopt-a-School Helmand Project during a meeting at the Paradise Point Officers’ Club aboard MCB Camp Lejeune, Jan. 25. 

“There are actually 115 schools that potentially could be adopted (in Helmand), but we chose the most solid 25 schools that were already functioning,” said D’Amato. “There was no question that the kids were going to show up day after day, week after week and the security was solid enough for them to support a program like this.”

With the project, organizations, schools or groups can make a commitment supporting a particular school by gathering ‘kits’ twice a year, with 200 school supplies including non-metal bound notebooks, protractors, rulers and colored pencils.

“As long as you get enough people together that can supply a school with 200 kids, twice a year, that’s what we encourage,” said D’Amato. “If you want to help individually, it’s best that you tie into a bigger effort, then you’re assured that your supplies will get counted, sent over and delivered to a particular school.”

The items will be delivered by a separate organization to a forward operating base near the school, where the ‘headmasters’ or teachers already in place at the schoolhouses will use the supplies throughout the year.

Helmand province is currently the stomping ground for many troops from 2nd Marine Division and II Marine Expeditionary Force. Inadvertently, the supplies will help with current operations overseas, as well as the eventual transition process out of Afghanistan.

“It transcends political narratives,” said D’Amato. “All these things we’re trying to pursue – government and private sector development – you need a literate population to do it. Schools are stabilizing factors in communities. When schools are stable, communities are more stable and less violence occurs. You can’t stop progress; people will always want to send their kids to school.”

If helping underprivileged children attain a higher education isn’t a good enough reason to ‘roger up,’ Helen Toolan, wife of Maj. Gen. John Toolan, commanding general of 2nd Marine Division; said one should think of it as another way to help the troops as well.

“This is something that the grandmother in Iowa can get her buddies to work toward and just give the Marines and sailors something to show the Afghan people that we truly care,” said Toolan. “We’re trying to garnish support locally, not just on the base. Local businesses and organizations - we want them to hear about the good things we want to do for Afghani children. I don’t know enough about the process, but I do know that the (Afghan people) make it a point (to ask): ‘what are you going to do for us?’ We can actually say, ‘we’re going to help strengthen your education system.’ The supplies have been flowing; (I Marine Expeditionary Force) has gotten it going and I want II MEF to make it better. I’m hopeful that we can support it and make a difference.”

For more information on Adopt-a-School-Helmand Project, contact Maj. Nina A. D’Amato at adopt.a.school.helmand@gmail.com.