by Mateja Zupancic
In Qale Sharbat, a quiet and small village not far from the city, we meet with a pious teacher, the local monitor, and listen to his story echoing in the empty rooms of the new school.
Qale Sharbat School is located in the village with the same name, in Kurokh district in the province of Herat. It is a project funded by the Ministry of Education that encountered many challenges for its successful completion. It represents a good example of the challenges that can be easily tackled if the various stakeholders involved in the construction process cooperate.
Everything seemed wrong in the project: shallow foundations, low quality bricks and concrete. The location in itself was problematic, overlapping with a grave. However, the various stakeholders positively contributed to the local monitor’s complaints bringing changes that resulted in a school of higher quality.
Said Kabeer is a mullah and teacher working in Korokh village in Herat province. Teachers make up 22% of CBM’s local monitors and Mullahs are 6%. He is one of the local monitors elected by the community to monitor the new school close to completion that has been built close to the school where he is teaching at the moment. He feels that a high quality building is not just his communal responsibility, but also his responsibility as a teacher to ensure that the children have access to proper and long lasting school spaces. The future of Afghanistan lies in education! Said, seated besides the black board of an empty classroom described the tormented journey for bringing improvements to the new school.
The first problem encountered was the location of the building overlapping that of a grave. The problem was successfully tackled through negotiations between the school officials, local community members and the construction company. The local community decided to concede some of the land and the school also shifted the location of the boundary wall. Then the depth of the foundation was problematic since it was nonstandard. The local monitors informed Integrity Watch, who provided some technical inputs on the long-term consequences of having shallow foundations. The issue was shared with the provincial council and they stopped the work. The work was then re-started after 8 or 9 days. At a later stage, the community encountered problems related to the materials that were supposed to be used: red bricks that are of lower quality and low quality sand. The local monitor himself went to the market and bought higher standard material. Finally, the steel bars were not clean, which would limit its proper adherence to the concrete. The community in collaboration with the local monitors and other stakeholders involved in the project also made sure that the steel bars used respected the standards. Finally, local monitors were also denied access to the project contract.
The construction would have been of lower quality if the local monitors would have not intervened in the project. Local monitors were highly supported by the community in their struggle. On one occasion, a large number of community members gathered together and complained to the local officials. The latter was a determining factor for pushing the contractor to improve the quality of the construction. Qale Sharbat faced many challenges that with the perseverance of the local monitors, Integrity Watch’s intervention, community involvement and the collaboration of the different stakeholders culminated in a success.
Community engagement in overseeing the construction activities improves the project quality. However, it is not an easy task. It requires dedicated persons from the community, who devote their time and energy to the cause. Moreover, community and local officials’ support is also essential for guaranteeing a successful improvement of the project.