FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Afghanistan – Aghalda’s father died 11 years ago. He’s the youngest of three brothers. One brother is in prison, the other moved away to start a family of his own. Helmand province is very conservative so, work is out of the question for his mother. Aghalala alone has to provide for what remains of the household.
The problem was nobody would hire him. He prayed every day, but Aghalala couldn’t find work. He’s 18-years-old, but at five feet, four inches tall and weighing roughly 100 pounds, he appears much younger.
He resorted to begging, where he met more rejection.
“When I begged, nobody would help,” Aghalala said. “They just made fun of me.”
Aghalala has no shortage of characteristics to mock: there’s his frail stature, his humble, frayed clothing, and his eyes.
After living with poor vision for so long, Aghalala spends most of the day with his eyes closed. He only opens them when there is a task at hand, and even then, he doesn’t keep them open the whole time. He periodically opens them to make sure he’s on track and then continues about his business with closed lids, only bothering to attempt to see for a purpose.
Aghalala had little reason to open his eyes those first few months of begging.
He continued to be met with ridicule and rejection until one day he asked for help from an interpreter who worked with Marines. The interpreter didn’t give Aghalala any money, but he let him know a way he could earn it; no more begging.
Each Sunday an average of 40 to 50 Afghan men gather at the entrance of Forward Operating Base Geronimo hoping to work as part of the local national day laborer program. Due to budget restrictions, only 20 men will be selected.
Cpl. William C. Kaylor is there to meet them. He decides who will work that week, and who will try again seven days later. On occasion, a new face is in the crowd, but more or less the same group of men show up in hopes of work.
Kaylor, the company custodian for Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and supervisor of the day laborer program, has a system for choosing who works.
Kaylor’s main responsibility is security. He’s there to make sure none of the workers put anyone on FOB Geronimo in danger. But Kaylor also spends a lot time getting to know these men. He knows who has a family and who doesn’t, whose children are having problems and whose aren’t.
“I definitely feel like I’m making a difference and having a direct impact on the people around here,” Kaylor, said. “Everyone makes a difference, but being in H and S Company, in a non infantry position, you don’t typically get the chance to interact with the populace this much and see the impact that’s being made on the lives of the people around us.”
Kaylor does his best to rotate the men. He cycles in the men with larger families and those who work hardest more often than others. Two of the men get hired consistently every week. One is Abdul Samad, an unofficial foreman for the day laborers. He’s a farmer from Khalaj, a large man who is respected by the others. Kaylor knows he can count on Samad to show up each week and that the other men will listen to him. Samad knows he can depend on Kaylor as well.
“Kaylor is a good guy,” Samad said. “He has good attention and listens to everybody. He doesn’t want us to work too hard. He is my friend.”
The other permanent slot belongs to Aghalala.
At first Aghalala showed up like everybody else, hoping to be selected, but with no guarantee. One day Aghalala’s mother came to the base with him and pleaded on behalf of her son. Aghalala’s mother explained their family situation, her son was promised work each week. That’s a promise 3/3 has kept since taking over the base about two months ago.
“For some, the work they do here is just extra money,” Kaylor said. “For others, like Aghalala, it’s all they really have.”
The laborers work five days a week, are required to attend school three of those days and are usually finished shortly after noon. The work is typically cleaning projects and filling sandbags and usually done outside of the base. The men are given lunch at the end of work and make 300 Afghani a day, or roughly $40 a week, depending on the exchange rate.
For men like Samad, the pay is helpful extra income used for buying tea and candy for his large family. Samad returns each day to tend to the family’s primary source of income, his farm.
Aghalala has no farm to tend to. He only has the day laborer program and if he didn’t have that, he said he would spend his days sitting around with nothing else to do. Each Thursday, payday, gives Aghalala a reason to open his eyes. He needs to count his pay, his family’s only income.
“I like that every week I have work and I have fun with the Marines,” Aghalala says. “We are just two people, we still owe money to the shopkeepers, but what I make is enough for my family. I’m so happy for the Marines and International Security Assistance Force.”
// By By Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes, 2nd Marine Division
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