"It is an impressive sight," enthuses Engineer Saddiq of Mercy Corps' Taloqan office.
He is talking passionately about the road reconstruction project that has recently begun in Takhar province, Afghanistan. Over 300 men from the local villages are working to level and gravel a 52-kilometer stretch of road between Bangi and Eskamish districts.
The Mercy Corps/Pax World Service food-for-work project is being carried out in partnership with the Taiwanese Government, which has contributed 240 tons of rice to the project.
"The impact of the project is tremendous. We are not just building a road and improving access to many villages, we are employing thousands of local people," says Saddiq.
The Bangi - Eskamish road is an important route for trade in the area, but it is practically impassable in many places and in desperate need of reconstruction. By reconstructing the road, trade can be revitalized. But of equal, if not greater, importance is the employment opportunity provided to the communities in Takhar province. This 52-kilometer stretch of dusty road passes through some of the most vulnerable and devastated areas in northern Afghanistan.
The roadwork is anything but easy. All the work is done manually using picks, axes, wheel borrows and shovels. Aja Bullah, a local laborer from Syop district, has been working on the project for two days. He is thankful to have the opportunity to work.
"I have a family of five and I am the only one working now. There is very little chance to work in this area. This project has allowed me to take rice home and feed my family," Bullah said.
Local people are hired for 12-day assignments. As the construction work moves forward along the route, the people of the villages closest to where the work is being done are hired. The most vulnerable people of each community are specifically selected to work on the project, ensuring the aid goes to those in the greatest need. The Mercy Corps - Taiwanese food-for-work project will employ over 6300 local people by the end of the project. To date, over 550 Afghan laborers have been employed and over 18 tons of rice has been distributed as compensation.
The workday starts at 7:30 in the morning and ends at 4:30 in the afternoon. Adul Ghias, another laborer on the project, must walk for half-an-hour to reach the site but says it is worth it. Before taking this job, he worked occasionally as a laborer in his village and neighboring villages, but has had a hard time finding regular work.
"I must support my family of eight people. I will do whatever I have to to feed my family. The Mercy Corps - Taiwanese food-for-work project makes it possible for us to survive," Ghias said.
As the construction area of the road moves slowly forward, averaging about one kilometer of progress each day, more and more lives of local villagers will be positively impacted. "Taiwan and Mercy Corps have brought more than rice to our village," said Ghias. "They have brought us hope."