SF teacher changing schools in Afghan province

January 20, 2011 8:09:38 PM PST
A San Francisco teacher is using her skills to improve the lives of thousands of Afghan students. Major Nina D'Amato is a Marine reservist working in southern Afghanistan. Her mission is to build an entire education system in the Helmand Province.

Children playing in the school yard is slowly once again becoming a part of the afghan way of life.

The 1979 soviet invasion, then a series of wars, practically destroyed the education system. The Taliban also banned girls from attending classes.

"In the last 15 years they haven't been allowed to go to school so this is a success story; 40 girls sitting side by side with Afghan boys is a big deal," D'Amato said.

D'Amato is a Marines reservist working as the education officer for Regional Command Southwest. Her job has been to help rebuild the entire education system in the violent Helmand province, from setting up schools, purchasing desks to establishing a basic curriculum.

When she arrived in March of last year, there were only four schools in the town of Marjah, with only 200 students attending. Today, nine months later, there are eight schools with 1,000 students, including for the first time, girls.

As the U.S. military secured the area, parents began feeling more comfortable about sending their children to nearby schools. With the help of afghan community leaders, D'Amato has worked to convince parents to invest in their children's education.

"At the end of the day, these kids need to know how to read, because if you want to build anything in this country you've got to build a literate population," D'Amato said.

A lot of her ideas came from A.P. Giannini Middle School in San Francisco's Sunset District where she was a teacher and on track to be a principal.

Her colleague Jen Silverman remembers her tenacity.

"To me it's overwhelming but for Nina it's just what she does; she comes in with hopes to change," Silverman said.

D'Amato is set to return to San Francisco in March but she will still have ties to Afghanistan. She is on the board of an all-girls school in Kabul.

"So it will never be a distant memory; Afghanistan will always be with me," D'Amato said.

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