Marine linguists’ passion for Afghan culture inspires plan for local youth

13 Jan 2012 | Cpl. Meredith Brown

For Lance Cpl.'s Lauren Kohls and Sarah Lowe, both Pashto linguists with 2nd Radio Battalion, Task Force Belleau Wood, education is the building block to the future of Afghanistan. With this in mind and a passion for the culture, the two Marines teamed up during their deployment and founded a non-profit corporation, Hayla International.


Hayla, Pashto for “hope,” is an up-and-coming endeavor that the Marines started on their yearlong deployment to Helmand province, designed to provide alternative education solutions in Afghanistan.

With the help from Lowe’s husband, Sgt. John Lowe, who provided administrative assistance throughout the Marines’ deployment, Hayla International was incorporated in Texas, July 28, 2011.

Throughout much of the poverty-stricken and rural province children do not have the option to get educated because in many cases it is unsafe to build a school, explained Lowe, a native of Rensselaerville, N.Y.

The Marines’ inspiration to start Hayla International came from their passion for Afghan culture.

As linguists, Kohls and Lowe had a unique opportunity to learn Pashto and about the Afghan culture and lifestyle, explained Kohls, a native of Stafford, Va.

Now, they are using this knowledge to develop Hayla International.

“We’re developing a curriculum to teach Afghans how to read and write in Pashtu,” continued Kohls, who is 23 years old. “With the language that we have, it’s something that we can provide to them and we have native Afghans that are willing to voice over the entire curriculum for us, so that we can provide an audio book along with a written textbook to areas that don’t have access to schools.”

To accomplish this mission, the Marines have been in contact with Playaway, a U.S.-based audio book company, working to create educational audio books for Afghan children in Pashto, Dari and Baluchi. They already have native volunteers ready to record the Dari and Pashtu portions of the project. Now, they are continuing fund raising efforts to support project costs, said Lowe.

Since Hayla International’s inception, the Marines completed a humanitarian aid project as a way to gain the trust of the local people.

During the winter donation drive, more than $1,100 in donations were collected in addition to many boxes of winter clothes and blankets. The Marines worked with civil affairs representatives to distribute the donations.

Lowe’s and Kohls’ drive to start Hayla International is directly related to their experiences while serving in Helmand province.

“After being out here a while, we really saw a need for education,” said Lowe. “We’ve seen kind of where this country is headed in the past however many years of war with no education and people just not having futures and not have a chance to do something better for themselves.”

For Kohls, education is essential for Afghanistan to progress.
“If your country is not educated it will never progress at the rate that other countries around the world are,” Kohls explained. “That’s something that we see in Afghanistan now, compared to where we are in America, they are very far behind us. I also feel, especially with our hearts and minds missions, if we as Americans come in to Afghanistan and they don’t have the education behind what we’re trying to give them, they’ll never understand the changes we’re trying to make or why we’re trying to make them.”

The Marines are redeploying, but will continue to work to provide education alternatives in Afghanistan. Both Lowe and Kohls plan to return to Afghanistan to teach later in their lives.

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