New documentary covers UAE relief efforts in Afghanistan

A documentary premiered before royalty has shown the vital job being performed by Emiratis in rebuilding Afghanistan.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, speaks with Lt Col Dr Aisha Al Dhaheri after the screening.
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ABU DHABI // While Capt Saeed patrols the area just 100 metres from a medical centre in battle-torn Afghanistan, Emirati doctors inside are busy helping Afghans.

And the medics have their hands full on the one day a week that the centre, at Forward Operating Base Robinson, is open.


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One in four Afghan children do not survive to see their fifth birthday, female life expectancy is 44 years, and 50 women in the country die each day in childbirth.

In the past eight years, six UAE-funded medical centres and one hospital have been opened in Afghanistan as Emirati troops work to provide humanitarian, stability and security assistance.

The UAE hopes such efforts in assisting social and economic development create long-lasting effects.

On Monday night, some of these troops came together at the majlis of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

Present were Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE, for a private screening of a documentary on the troops' work.

The 30-minute film, Mission: Winds of Goodness, tracks the nation's contributions from the perspective of those with boots on the ground in Robinson and other trouble spots in Afghanistan.

Capt Saeed is seen trying to obtain information about homemade bombs hidden in the area. But getting answers from the locals is hard, he says. Some are too afraid to talk.

"If you cannot help me, I cannot help you," he tells them.

Capt Saeed and other troops there said their common experiences, including religion, helped overcome those barriers. Islam "was the easiest way to reach the Afghan citizens".

Brig Gen Obaid Al Shamsi, who was on the discussion panel after the screening, said Afghan traditions were similar to those of Emiratis.

"Afghans are tribal - close to us," Gen Al Shamsi said. "So it was easy for us to communicate with them."

Lt Col Dr Aisha Al Dhaheri, who served in Afghanistan and was on the discussion panel, said it was important for her and her colleagues to attend to women and children as some women refused to be treated by men.

"Part of our work is to attend to the solders, to Afghans, spread awareness and provide vaccinations," she said, adding that working with limited supplies offered good training.

Health problems differed depending on age and many children lacked vaccinations, Lt Col Al Dhaheri said.

Soldiers also had to acclimatise to these remote areas, learning to survive without mobile phones and running water. "We are trained to live in any situation and any environment," one solder says in the documentary.

The director of the film, Khalid Al Falasi, concluded by saying he was struck by the bravery of the UAE personnel in Afghanistan. "They do not fear anything," Mr Al Falasi said.

And their list of achievements is long. A college, Zayed University, as well as 11 lower schools and a library have been built with UAE funds and volunteers.

There are 38 new mosques, several roads and 160 drinking wells thanks to support from the Emirates.

The UAE committed more than Dh1.26billion to Afghanistan in 2009, or 14 per cent of foreign aid that year, the Office for the Co-ordination of Foreign Aid says.

More than Dh863million was allocated to construction, with the rest going to transport and storage. More Dh26m went towards social infrastructure and services.

Sameera Qalais, one of the guests at the majlis, said she was not aware troops from her country had been taking part in the international efforts since 2003. But she was amazed by what they had accomplished.

"It gives us pride," Ms Qalais said. "It is better for us as Muslims to work with them than anyone else.

"The troops there are heroes and I hope they continue in their hard work. Their work just shows how patriotic they are."