Bridging the gap: American high school students deliver the goods
May 18, 2009
BAGHDAD- In an effort to give a group of high school students a glimpse into the lives of Iraqis, a Dubuque, Iowa teacher assigned a service project to her students to apply 'real world problem solving solutions' that would benefit the people of the war torn country.
Brenda Foust, a world history teacher at Hemp Stead High School, and her students decided that a focus on education promoted the most, with the common belief that 'knowledge is power.'
"We gathered donated school supplies for the children, feeling that that would help to better educate them and eventually help them effect change in years to come," said committee member and Hemp Stead High School sophomore, Rachel Splinter.
Partnering with the students and faculty of nearby Washington Middle School, the students gathered an abundance of pens, pencils, notebooks and many other educational tools that are far from common place in classrooms throughout Iraq.
"The amount of donations were really no surprise to us; most people are willing to help if it is a good cause, and we knew people would see what we were trying to do and help as much as they could," said Splinter.
Gathering supplies from Washington Middle School and the nearly 1,800 students at Hemp Stead High was only half the battle. The next step would be to find a way to deliver the spoils of their project to those who would benefit the most.
That's where sophomore Tracy Zurcher and her uncle, Master Sgt. Craig Roberts, with Multi National Division-Baghdad's provost marshal's office, helped build a bridge between American high school students and the Iraqi children.
"Since he was in Iraq, I introduced Mrs. Foust to Craig, and soon our class was exchanging e-mails, and [video chatting] with him. We were learning about Iraq from someone who was actually there and that helped us to give our project a focus," said Zurcher.
With (the 1st Cavalry Division) being deployed I agreed to help them out because I saw that it was a good cause and a way for them understand what it is we are trying to do over here," said Roberts, originally from Dubuque.
Soon all the pieces were falling into place. Roberts, having seen this project grow from an idea into a fully fledged humanitarian aid mission, took the next few steps on his own.
"Once I received the supplies I started making connections through the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion. They set me up with the 2nd Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment which would ultimately provide the means to deliver these supplies to a community they had a relationship with," said Roberts.
So on May 15, many months of planning and what seemed like 'divine intervention' for Master Sgt. Roberts would finally culminate into a perfect ending to an Iraqi school day.
Roughly 200 students of the Hamichun School in Baghdad gathered just outside their respective classrooms, filling the concrete courtyard with gleeful anticipation and chatter, as Roberts and the Soldiers of the 2nd Bn. 112th Inf. Regt., unloaded box after box of school supplies and mounds of book bags. For the students in Iowa, their hopes were that these children would see that they had not been forgotten.
"This is one of those things where a plan comes together. I had it in my mind that those (Hemp Stead High students) had gone through so much to get that stuff here, that I was going to go that extra mile to get (the donations) out to kids who needed it, before school let out for the summer," Roberts said.
"I am so glad that my students got to see the benefit of all their hard work," said Foust. "I really can't take any of the credit for this; all I did was give them an assignment. They took it, ran with it, and I couldn't be more proud of the results. I am truly amazed."
A simple idea, with simple results; however, for a group of high school sophomores it was a continuation of that old adage that there is good in the world, and it comes from the good nature of people. Many lessons could be learned from such a act of caring, but the most important, for Dubuque sophomore Kaley Rigdon, was a view shared in common with all those who continue to promote peace through the smallest of gestures.
"This project was about trying to help make things better," Rigdon said. "The world is much bigger than just Dubuque, Iowa. Reaching out shows your character, it will take you far in life, and ours led us to being good ambassadors for the world."