By Spc. Jazz Burney,3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs, 25th Infantry DivisionApril 3, 2009
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq -Do you remember coming to class, sitting at the desk with your name written on it, and listening to the teacher as she told you to take out your new school book' Do you remember the excitement of opening the book and turning the pages with eagerness to begin learning'
Soldiers of 325th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, helped bring that excitement to Iraq as they packaged and prepared the first shipment of more than 600,000 "My Arabic Library" books to be delivered to Iraqi schools throughout the Salah ad-Din province, in a combined effort to introduce and establish better learning environments and library systems for Iraqi children, March 28.
"Giving children something that they can actually sit, read and hold gives them hope for their future. I think that giving the children of Iraq hope is an important focus for Coalition Forces due to the lack of hope that is prevalent in this area," said Sgt. Suzanne Sippel, a Provincial Reconstruction Team member with the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion.
"I have three children of my own and I know that there were influential people in their lives who made a significant impact on them-I know that their children will be the ones making the decisions for the United States, and the Iraqi children who will receive these supplies will eventually be the ones making the decisions for all of Iraq 25 years down the road," she added.
The distribution project started in April 2008, following an initiative from the government of Iraq and the U.S. State Department. Iraqi officials spotted the need to start library programs within the schools for Iraqi children to use.
Iraqi officials and the PRT calculated the number of schools that would receive the books. They ordered 560 sets for Salah ad-Din province, according to Capt. Miguel Benzor-Anaya, health service support officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 325th Bde. Support Bn., 3rd Inf. Bde. Combat Team, 25th Inf. Div.
The BSB Soldiers sorted the books, which arrived in seven full tractor-trailer loads, into smaller packages destined for each of the qadas, or districts ,in the province, said Benzor-Anaya.
"An additional purpose for establishing a library system within the Iraqi schools is to identify those schools that have an interest in teaching the English language-this will also lead to starting a Pen Pal program with children of the United States and establish more awareness for the situation here in Iraq," he said.
In addition to the pen pal program and schoolbook delivery, the PRT is also working on an overall education initiative that includes building and refurbishing public libraries and creating schools of excellence.
Each set of books contain 12 boxes, which are grade specific and are color coordinated to make organizing and distributing the materials easier. One set of packaged books will cover an elementary school.
PRT members sought and attained the approval of the Iraqi Government through the Ministry of Education to begin ordering mass numbers of Scholastic books, after they saw the positive impact of providing Iraqi children the additional materials needed for their education. The orders for the books were placed in Dec. 2008 and now the shipments have arrived to be distributed, according to Sippel.
"If these children will remember the school supplies and other initiatives that we have provided, it will start a positive ripple effect --that by doing one thing for these children, whether it be providing a book, shoes or a pencil, that one thing could eventually be the action that makes a difference in the world," said Sippel.
A teacher training program to enhance Iraqi teachers' ability to instruct their students will be a part of the initiative to be established by combined efforts from Coalition Forces and the Iraqi Government, according to Sippel.