Hope for Afghans' Future: Packed Schools

With swelling official corruption, more than half of its people living on less than $100 a month and nearly half who cannot read, the situation in Afghanistan is bleak.

But ABC News pollsters did see a glimmer of hope: schools.

In the results from an exclusive national survey of more than 1,500 Afghans in all 34 of the country's provinces and produced by ABC News, the BBC and ARD German TV, 72 percent of Afghans polled say schools have been rebuilt or reopened in their area.

And the evidence is visible.

Outside Jalalabad, on the road to Tora Bora, is the improbably named La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club School, funded by a California Rotary club.

And for the sign of a successful school, one needs only to check the roof.

"Desks on the roof are a universal sign of a school in Afghanistan," said volunteer Dr. Dave Warner.

"We have 3,800 students here, over 1,000 girls. The classrooms are so full," Warner said, "you can't fit the desks in, and they have to have multiple shifts."

Warner holds both an M.D. and a Ph.D. and is part of what he calls "the nerd surge" in Afghanistan -- volunteers traveling on their own dime to provide medical help, education and basic services for ordinary Afghans. But it has been far from an ordinary experience for Warner.

One meeting about the school stands out. "[A]t the end of the meeting, they said, 'oh, would you like to go by Osama's house?' Not if he's home!" Warner said.

Osama bin Laden has not been home for more than a decade. But less than half a mile from the school is his former residence, where he once lived with three of his wives. Once a Soviet collective farm, it was called Najin al Jihad, or Holy Star of War.

"We had no idea," Warner said. "On the other hand, it illustrates a point. People that care can come somewhere and make a profound difference."

After a swift trip to see the ruins of the bin Laden compound, which was struck by a missile in 2001, it's necessary to keep moving for security purposes.

It is not a friendly neighborhood, but you never have to worry about Warner holding still very long.

In Afghanistan, 'the System's Broken'

By late afternoon, it's time for a trip to the remote Sak village. Only accessible by makeshift rafts of old tires and sticks piloted by children, Warner and former Marine Tim Lynch head to the community with school supplies.

Warner has been traveling to the village for a year. He first made the trek with a group after the caves across in the distance piqued his curiosity. After a few hours, "a little bit of dehydration, [a] little bit of heatstroke," he said, the villagers spotted the group -- and its armed guards.

"They were unfazed," Warner said. "They whipped out their carpets and they let the hospitality of the people that is indigenous to this area, it began to blossom."

But even though the hospitality flourishes, the poverty is staggering.

The villagers, many of whom are returning refugees, are among the 63 percent of Afghans who say they cannot afford to buy all or even some of the food they need, let alone basic school supplies such as pens and pencils. There is no electricity and the water comes from a hand-dug well.

"This is one of the things that has upset me most," Warner said, that despite the many refugees returning to the area, "no one bothered to see if where they would be repatriated actually has [water]."

"The system's broken," he said, "and that's why we need to get people out and about, into the villages to see with their eyes, to meet the people and ask them, what do they need."

Warner says that the focus on the military mission has left the rebuilding here seriously lacking.

"Here's the problem I see: For the price of two expat private security contractors here in Afghanistan, I could put Internet to 50,000 students. … You gotta ask yourself, if it's about hearts and minds, should we go after the minds and [be] providing content and information and connecting them to the world? You can't oppress people that can communicate," he said.

American Troops: Beyond the Military Bases

Lynch, the former Marine who has spent the better part of four years working with Warner, says Americans need to move beyond the military bases.

"The only way you are going to get any type of bang for your buck out here is to be deployed off the centralized bases, into the communities with the people, and stay there, and show them commitment," he said.

Lynch says armored convoys and troops interacting with locals while decked out in flak jackets and helmets "tends to stifle conversation."

"In order to get anything done," Lynch said, "you have to put in the time, drinking the tea, talking about the weather, checking on the health of every damn person of every friggin' family, then you got to sit around for a while, just to show that you have the patience to endure the tedium that follows as you negotiate."

But after seven years, it is the Afghan people who are losing faith.