Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Why Canadians don't know the trivia that's not trivial

Quickly now - no Googling: can you name three projects Canada's Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (KPRT) has undertaken in the past year? The first wiseguy to spout off that "they dug a well" gets a slap in the head for his trouble.

If you couldn't think of one specific thing, you're not alone - I couldn't either, until I did a bit of digging. The truth is that the KPRT has almost a hundred projects either on the go or completed right now, put together by CF, Civilian Police (CivPol), DFAIT, or CIDA personnel with the team. Following are some highlights that I found particularly interesting.
  • More than 2000 Afghans in the remotest areas of Kandahar province have received basic medical care because of the KPRT's Village Medical Outreach (VMO) visits. You know who provided that care? Afghan doctors and dentists - we paid and provided security, but it was Afghans helping Afghans. Beyond the actual hands-on care, the VMOs also gave out medication, tools, school supplies, food, blankets, toys, carpets, and radios. This is basic stuff, but a blanket can make the difference between a child making it through the winter or not.

  • CivPol officers provided more than 1000 uniforms for Afghan National Police (ANP) officers they are helping to train, including winter coats, boots, belts, gloves, and flashlights. Imagine a police force without uniforms - how would you know the difference between lawful authority and a thug with a gun? Now think of it from the ANP side - how much more difficult is it to take pride in your work as a law enforcement profesional when you're shivering in a thin civilian cloak at a vehicle checkpoint? Not only that, but the KPRT CivPol officers also donated 470 sets of body armour to the ANP on Afghan Freedom Day (national holiday) this year, and improved living conditions at six ANP sub-stations where the renovated premises will eventually be used to train more ANP.

  • Betcha didn't know the ANP is responsible for fire-fighting as well. CivPol officers have provided a pile of fire-fighting gear to the ANP recently. Some of it was bought by DND, and some was actually donated by the Langford B.C. Volunteer Fire Department. BZ to Langford for stepping up like that.

  • Speaking of stepping up, you'd expect the CivPol folks to be RCMP, right? Four of them are, but one guy is from the Charlottetown City Police. There's a bit of culture shock for you: PEI to Kandahar. Not too many RPG's, or fields of marijuana, or police officers without boots to wear in Charlottetown, I'd bet. Good on him.

  • The KPRT donated 100 bicycles to the Afghan Ministry of Education for end-of-year school awards for kids. Oh, and 6000 school kits all over the province as well.

  • The KPRT are working on more than one side of the development equation with their Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul program that supports the ANP. Not only are they making sure the ANP have functional vehicles with which to patrol and provide security, they're training local Afghan civilians to do the maintenance, and they're donating vehicles as well - twelve brand new Toyota pickups at last count.

  • Kandahar University has computers, a water distribution system, and an electrical generator that allows them to hold courses even when the rest of Kandahar City is without power thanks to the KPRT.

  • On my birthday this year, the KPRT delivered school supplies donated by Girl Guides in Maple Ridge, B.C. and hand-knit stuffed animals donated by a knitting circle in Dartmouth, N.S. to the Mir Wais Hospital pediatric ward. Need another reason to by Girl Guide cookies this year? Well done to the ladies in Dartmouth as well. The KPRT also chipped in with baby bottles and the formula to fill them. A month later, the KPRT also donated 100 sets of diagnostic equipment to the nursing school at the same hospital.

  • As you can see, the KPRT helps distribute privately donated aid, above and beyond what our government spends. John Race deserves a great deal of credit for this, since his significant donation started the ball rolling. On September 14th of this year, part of his donation was used to purchase $10,000 worth of school furniture for the Dand District School. People like Mr. Race make my jaw drop and my heart swell.

I've only scratched the surface here, as you might have guessed.

Why don't ordinary Canadians know much about this intensely valuable and important work? Well, partly because the government has done a lacklustre job telling the public about it, as the MND recently admitted. Luckily, they're now working to correct that course of action.

But you can't put it all on the government, either. Here's a stat that might surprise you as well: since January 16th of this year, 175 journalists from 37 different media outlets have embedded with the CF in Afghanistan. How many stories have you seen about the KPRT - other than from the BBC? Now, how many ramp ceremonies have you seen?

Mourning the deaths of our soldiers is important, let there be no doubt. But even a couple of folks within the media think that the balance of coverage has swung too far in that particular direction.

So, is this a deathwatch? It sure seems so.

The journalist's role is to transmit a snapshot of events, along with the history and context, to viewers, listeners and readers back home. During a military conflict, that inevitably involves telling stories of injury and death.
The technology we need to broadcast back to Canada is on the base and is not particularly mobile. As a result, many journalists and their bosses fear that if you leave the base with Canadian soldiers on one of their many multi-day missions, and "big news" happens while you are away elsewhere, you are simply unable to cover it.

That big news, tragically, often means the death of a soldier. So, journalists in Afghanistan for Canada's bigger media outlets (print, television and radio) are reluctant to leave the base with the soldiers for anything more than a day trip. Not surprisingly, many soldiers feel we journalists are conducting a deathwatch.

There is no question we, as journalists, must do better.

The entire reason The Torch was set up was to provide better information to the Canadian public about the CF - past, present, and future - than it was getting through the traditional sources. But we're just one small outpost in the great online world, and like it or not, we rely on the press almost as much as the general public does. So Canadians are still only getting glimpses of the entire picture.

First of all, it's easy to forget that the picture Canucks get from our media is of CF operations in Kandahar, not all of Afghanistan. Six provinces in the south - of which Kandahar is the most dangerous - form a part of the overall picture, but not all of it. Afghanistan as a whole is doing much better than one would think from watching news reports focused on the Canadian area of operations.

Within that narrow view, the scope of reporting tightens even more with what the press chooses to report. Journalists are willing to cover what the military calls 'kinetic ops' - and what the rest of us call combat - because it makes for exciting stories. And they're willing to cover the deaths of Canadian soldiers because death is always considered a newsworthy topic - "if it bleeds, it leads."

What impression does that provide to the Canadian public? That Afghanistan is a much more dangerous place than it really is, and that Canadian soldiers spend their time either killing insurgents or being killed by them.

No wonder support for the mission goes up and down like a toilet seat.

To counter that, I'll continue to put posts like this one about our PRT together as I have time to do the research and put it together. The CF is conducting a full spectrum of operations in Afghanistan right now, and we at The Torch hope to tell you about it.

Wouldn't it be nice if the folks who collect a paycheque for informing the Canadian public would see fit to follow suit?

Update: Check out what the good folks from the Lawrencetown, N.S. fire department did to put smiles on the faces of ANP firefighters. Tell me that doesn't make the Maple Leaf look good to the locals.

Up-the-flagpole-date: VW at The Phantom Observer does a great job pointing out some additonal projects I didn't mention. Go give them a read.


Blogger Paul MacPhail said...

I live in Charlottetown, PE. The last officer from here that took up the challenge was Ross Davies. Is he still there or are you referring to a different officer?

3:58 p.m., November 29, 2006  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Don't know the name, Paul. The information was simply numbers: four RCMP and one CCP. Takes a pile of guts to go from Charlottetown to Kandahar City, though.

4:17 p.m., November 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A well written and educational post. The MSM has let us down again.

5:35 p.m., November 29, 2006  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

There was a story a year or two ago about Montreal police (I think at least 5 of them) doing UN work.

Didn't a non-RCMP officer get killed last year in Haiti?

7:33 a.m., November 30, 2006  
Blogger The Hack said...

Great post Brooks! Gives you that warm fuzzy feeling that I think they call "F#*%in' A Pride!"

I've been wondering about something for awhile, and I wonder if you guys would know if there is already a program like this:

My mother and sister are elementary school-teachers. My sister is a first-year teacher and hasn't been able to do much yet, however my mother has been teaching young kids for years and years and has always tried to incorporate the international world into her teachings, beit at the Olympics, or through sponsoring a classroom "third world child", and such.

Now, part of the appearance problems of the Afghanistan mission, is that for the most part, Canadians haven't been sold on this as a national mission. As a project where a country focuses its attention and resources to make a significant impact.

Am I wrong, or wouldn't the idea of "pairing" up school across Canada with schools in Afghanistan make a world of sense? Canadian children would get a look at children in a far different setting, and Afghan children could see the sincerety and caring of Canadians in their younger years as well.

The children could send letters back and forth (which are then translated), and even classroom videos showing "A day in the life of..." There's no doubt that many Canadian schools would go even further, sending used school supplies to their partner school (and even fund raising a few bucks extra for new ones).

I asked my mother if she would have her class participate, and she immediately said yes she would.

Does anyone know if there's anything like this availible already?

11:33 a.m., November 30, 2006  
Blogger Unknown said...

Take a look at my post about Operation Medusa.

Chuck Simmins
America's North Shore Journal

4:05 p.m., November 30, 2006  
Blogger Jacques Beau Vert said...

Wow, now this was terrific reporting. I read over the news daily and try my best to follow current events in North America and the world, and I've always been confounded by how difficult it is to find out just what exactly it is we're doing in Afghanistan. The Ministry and the media have really fallen in my opinion in the last years for their inability to give simple facts to us. I sure am grateful for your work here.

12:19 p.m., December 02, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home