By Sgt. TJ MollerApril 2, 2011
During deployment, service members rarely have the opportunity to interact with the Iraqi population or experience the local culture first-hand.
The Victory Base council Iraqi scouting program, also known as Kashafa, affords service members and affiliated civilians the chance to interact with children on a weekly basis while on tour here at Victory Base Complex.
Kashafa was established in 2008 with a goal of starting and supporting scouting with Iraqi children here on VBC. Service member and civilian volunteers plan for activities during weekly council meetings. Then they get to play games with the scouts and participate in activities like making crafts.
The scouting events not only allow for service members and Iraqi children to interact, it also allows for the two cultures to intertwine.
"I enjoy helping out," said Sue Alnarraie, a linguist for the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Victory Base Defense Operations Center. "I help out to bridge the cultures, to bring them together."
"This is a good cultural experience for me," said first-time volunteer, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Crystal Alvarez, an intelligence analyst with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group One, Joint Task Force-Troy, United States Forces-Iraq. "It seems like the kids are having a good time and having fun."
"Most of these kids remind the volunteers of their own kids back home," said 1st Lt. Erinn L. Woodside, cable officer-incharge, Direct Signal Support Team, 151st Expeditionary Signal Battalion, who has been the scout's co-chair since December 2010. It's great for the community and the volunteers love it because it's fun, she said.
"I actually started doing this because of my daughter," said Sgt. 1st Class Shane D. Devera-Wade operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge with the 160th Signal Brigade, United States Division - Central. "She is a girl scout and one of her projects was to learn geocaching."
Geocaching is a high tech scavenger hunt using the GPS, he explained. "It's something fun for the kids to do and they get to learn about leadership and teamwork."
"A lot of people don't realize this, but you may go six months without even seeing a kid," co-chair Timothy Norwood, systems administrator with CACI. "Luckily, some commanders realize how beneficial it is for the morale of the troops to play with kids, and allow soldiers to attend."
"Being around these scouts gives me the sense of being back at home," said Devera-Wade. Having fun, learning, and interacting with people from different cultures is what Kashafa is all about. The program has had over 400 volunteers and the current volunteers are taking steps to ensure that it can continue running after December
"I think we get as much out of it as the kids do." said Woodside.