By Spc. Raymond Quintanilla, 305th Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentJanuary 19, 2011
BASRA, Iraq -- Bringing the power of knowledge to children is a worthy task, no matter what the odds. Although, it's one thing to transport children across miles of desert to attend school, it's another to bring the school to them.
Through the joint efforts of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the leaders of a small marshland community within Basrah province, Iraqi children now enjoy the gift of education.
Personnel from United States Division-South, Provincial Reconstruction Team-Basrah, and the United Kingdom Embassy visited the newly-opened Al Rota School in the outskirts of Basrah, Jan. 10, which was completed last spring.
Financed by the United States with more than $400,000 of Iraq-Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds and featuring, an international award-winning design by the British, the new school was built by Iraqi contractors, and opened its doors last October.
"The school is really an exciting mix of local construction skills and British engineering expertise," said the Honorable Alice Walpole, British consul-general and Head of the British Embassy Office, Basrah.
"They've married those two ideas really well here," Walpole said. "It was a difficult project in many ways, being that we are in a remote area. I think in the beginning no one was quite sure it would work, but it succeeded magnificently."
The closest school is more than seven kilometers away, said Maki Muhasan, the director of education in Basrah.
"It is hard for small children to walk all the way there," Muhasan said. "Many people who lived here left because of the Iraq-Iran war, or for other reasons. Now they're going to come back, bring their children here because of the school."
"This has been a great project, everybody in this area are very happy about it," he continued.
Projects like this, are important because the focus of the international community tends to fall on big cities, big businesses, and major infrastructures, said Walpole.
"Yet, Iraq is also made of many small rural communities, with quite striking poverty, with lack of amenities," said Walpole. "We need to focus on those as well."
The director of the school, Sahar Mukhtar, said he and the villagers greatly appreciates the new school, but described some challenges he faces in operating a school where the director and principal double as teachers.
Sahar, who grew up in Al Rota and studied in Basrah University, returned to his hometown knowing the village was in dire need for educators.
The new facility constructed with modern mason walls and flooring, a motif matted-fence and a traditional middle-eastern arched roof made of bounded reed, was built to accommodate the younger children of the village, ages 6-to-9.
Walpole said she and the director of education hope it's [project] success will be a blue print for the Iraqi people.
"It's possible to build in the local style [in the marshes]," Walpole said. "It's also a reminder for the people of Iraq, that they have within their country some fantastic, indigenous local traditions."
"We want to ignite their imagination, let them see the resources they have and encourage them to think about how to use this as a template."