Around the world, a graduation day marks an exciting milestone for students and families alike. But for 20 men and 20 women in Bamyan Province, Afghanistan -- all survivors of accidents involving landmines and unexploded munitions -- a U.S.-funded Afghan vocational training program offers new opportunities to support their families and communities, as well as hope toward healing the hidden wounds from the social stigma of disability.
Landmines and other unexploded ordnance affect virtually every province in Afghanistan, a tragic legacy of nearly three decades of conflict. Experts note that in 2010 as many as 1,211 people were injured or killed in Afghanistan by landmines and unexploded ordnance remaining from the 1980s-1990s, with children involved in more than half of these incidents. Since 1997, our office has provided more than $190 million to help Afghanistan build its capabilities to tackle this long-term challenge.
But survey and clearance operations are only half of the story. Around the world, U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction efforts also support assistance programs which serve those injured by landmines and unexploded munitions. Through a U.S. grant, implemented by the non-governmental organization Clear Path International, our Afghan partners from The Rehabilitee Organization for Afghan War Victims provided vocational training in engine mechanics, sewing and tailoring, as well as literacy skills essential as Afghanistan rebuilds.
Bamyan, perhaps best known as the site of the 2001 destruction of its historic Buddha statues by the Taliban, was designated a high-priority province for disability programs by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled because of the lack of infrastructure and programs for the disabled population. As a result of this training program, Bamyan now boasts an empowered disabled population that is better able to economically provide for themselves and their families.
For a country, lingering threats from landmines and unexploded ordnance can continue to claim lives and hinder development long after the end of a conflict. On a personal level, the impact can be as complex as it is heartbreaking. In addition to learning new skills, students were encouraged to connect with their fellow class members, share their personal narratives, and gain emotional support from other survivors. By graduation, the class shared a unique camaraderie that added to an atmosphere of celebration.
To celebrate the successful initiation of this program, high-profile officials from the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul attended the ceremony, including the Deputy Governor of Bamyan Province, leaders of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Director of the Bamyan Ministry of Education, Director of the Ministry of Information and Culture, Director of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, Director of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, Director of the UNAMA Development Coordination Unit and the Clear Path International Country Director.
Although this class was the first of its kind in Bamyan, victim assistance programs are not new to Afghanistan. Other successful U.S.-funded victim assistance projects have included construction of ramps to increase accessibility to government and religious buildings, high-quality prosthetics to low-income persons with disabilities, and advocacy and awareness campaigns to enhance the status of people with disabilities. For the positive impact of these and other programs worldwide, the United States is proud to be the world's leading provider of aid for humanitarian mine action and conventional weapons destruction efforts worldwide.
When conflict ends in Afghanistan, landmines will persist. We are committed to helping Afghanistan eradicate these hidden killers and to assisting those that are the innocent victims of conflict. As surely as the students graduating from the vocational training school in Bamyan are eager to put their new skills to work after graduation day, we will continue our support as Afghanistan recovers and rebuilds.