PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Since arriving in Afghanistan's Paktika Province, the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division's female engagement teams have already conducted several missions rendering humanitarian aid to remote villages and conducting drip bucket irrigation classes.
July 21 through 22, the brigade's FETs took it one extra step by conducting an all women's shura, the Afghan word for council, with the Director of Women's Affairs and connecting with children at a local orphanage.
Outside the new Director of Women's Affairs building, armed Afghan National Army guards stand providing security. The women inside risk persecution for even attending - why?
One woman spoke to U.S. Soldiers through the help of an interpreter.
"She is tired," the interpreter said. "She moved from her hometown in Bermal to save her children from the Taliban."
Her son was severely beaten and lost an eye for not joining the Taliban, the interpreter explained.
The women in the building were angry. Literacy, safety and a way to provide for their families were their concerns. They were tired of the violence and the Taliban's mistreatment of women in Afghanistan.
As the FET members absorbed the information the women discussed, they also built bonds within Afghanistan's most untapped resource -- its children.
"It was a memorable experience to get a firsthand account straight from the women," said Spc. Dalia Lopez, a welder and female engagement team member from the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, also known as the "Black Lions."
"It was great hearing their plans for a better future," said Spc. Courtney Bryant, a logistical specialist and FET member of the Black Lions.
After two hours of camaraderie and fellowship with the Afghan women, the team was escorted back to their operating base to debrief and plan for the next day's mission to the local orphanage.
Sharana has one orphanage that can house as many as 110 children with a budget to match. Currently inside of that orphanage are 18 children. They receive meals, an education and a place to rest their heads. Children ranging from the ages of six to 14 were greeted by the scarf-clad FET members with smiles, firm handshakes and the greeting of "may peace be upon you," in Pashtu language.
Lining the wall, the children giggled and smiled as they were taught how to make bubbles, blow crazy whistles and throw Frisbees. The director of the orphanage gathered the children in a line and gave them school supplies, hygiene kits, book bags, books and candy.
The children were so excited about their new gifts, a soccer game began in the courtyard with the FET members.
As the members geared up to leave, the children once again shook their hands and smiled. One child, so excited about the day, said the only English words he knew: "Good night."
Back at their operating base, Spc. Marella Batton, a transportation specialist and FET member said, "I'll do this again. These are the populations that have been totally ignored, and they need to be heard."