SoA and Expertise: Rural Afghan Power
Spirit of America does not focus solely on providing goods or funds for projects our troops are working on; from time to time, we are able to add better value by linking US military units with outside experts and local enablers. Along with the fantastic support we receive from our donors, we also have a relationship with the Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG), a consulting organization that provides access to some 300,000 technical experts worldwide; additionally, we have developed contacts here in Afghanistan that can provide assistance in certain areas.
Recently, I was approached by a Special Operations Forces (SOF) team working in western Kandahar Province. They were interested in providing power to a village that had been extremely supportive of the team's efforts to develop Afghan Local Police and tie remote areas to the national government. This project would serve several purposes: it would provide a poor rural village with a much-needed source of electricity to power lights and recharge cell phones, it would reinforce local governance structures by having the villagers work together to maintain the network and pay for fuel, and it would provide leverage to convince other villages in this restive area to cooperate with coalition efforts.
Unfortunately, the team did not have access to anyone with the technical expertise to implement such a project. They had a number of critical questions: how large a generator would be needed, what would be the best way to wire the network, how much fuel would be consumed on a daily basis, etc. The team approached Spirit of America to see if we might be able to find answers to any of these questions.
The first step we took was reaching out to the folks at GLG to see if they had an expert with experience in this field. We wanted someone who understood power in a remote, undeveloped context. It didn't make sense to approach this from a high-tech American perspective – we needed a solution that would be sustainable in Afghanistan. SoA's GLG contacts linked me and the team up with a gentleman who had worked on similar issues in rural India. Based on his experiences and the information we provided, Raju was able to create a diagram outlining the simple grid needed to make this idea work. He explained the rudiments of distribution boards, wiring, and power conversion.
Thus informed, SoA introduced the SOF team to one of our local contacts who could implement this plan. Haji Matiullah Matie, the CEO of an Afghan development NGO who has worked with us for years, came out to the base yesterday morning to conduct a site survey with his electrical expert. The SOF Cultural Support Team (CST) commander in charge of this initiative and I explained the project and then showed them the village. After taking notes and pictures of the area, Haji Matie told us that he would have a detailed plan and quotes put together quickly so that this project could be completed as soon as possible.
Sometimes, knowledge is more important than material resources, and this is another way that SoA supports our troops. In the words of the CST commander, "Spirit of America has been extremely helpful in linking us with outside technical experts and an Afghan subject matter expert...By having the contacts and network system SoA has, they are able to gain information and support faster than through other available channels." Stay tuned for more updates as this project develops.
Afghanistan Field Rep