CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- Making small steps to repair Iraq's ailing educational system, Marines here signed a contract with a local Iraqi government official July 1, 2004, to give Iraqi school children some of the learning tools they need.
The agreement is part of an ongoing effort by Marines intended to improve the quality of life in Al Kabani, a small fishing village in western Iraq..
The children in the town have been using the same makeshift desks for years. Furniture like blackboards and bookshelves, which the village's teachers said would improve the learning environment for the students, are hard to come by.
The contract paid Thaer Handallah, Al Kabani's government representative, $5,570 for 104 new desks, a refrigerator, chalkboards and shelves requested by the teachers. It brought the total amount the battalion has spent on the village to more than $175,000.
The new desks, which have seats built onto them meant to hold two students, are a far cry from the scrap-wood tables the children currently use.
In March, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment's troops visited with the community's leaders, who provided a list of improvements the village needed, hoping the Marines would be able help finance them.
The leaders asked the Marines for clean water, a generator to provide power to the people's homes, health care and school improvements, said Maj. Rollin F. Jackson, 37, a company commander in the reserve infantry battalion, elements of which provide security for nearby Camp Taqaddum, the home of the 1st Force Service Support Group's headquarters.
After funding and overseeing the development of a water-purification system and generator in the village, and conducting basic medical assessments during frequent visits to the community, the Marines took the first steps to keep their last promise to the people.
Additionally, the battalion's Marines, who have unofficially adopted the village, will provide more than just money, said Jackson.
The Marines' family members in the United States are joining the cause and shipping school supplies over here, he said. The Marines will pass the donations out during future visits to the village.
To avoid possible looting while the children are on their summer vacation, the furniture won't be delivered until just before school picks back up in August.
Al Kabani's school seems to be a microcosm of the Iraqi education system, which declined after the Gulf War due to the impact of war, sanctions, neglect and isolation, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
According to a June 9 UNICEF press release, most of Iraq's schools need repairs or clean-up, and another 5,000 need to be built to accommodate all of Iraq's 12 million school-age children.
Almost half of the country's 15- to 24-year-old male population and more than 75 percent of its women in the same age group are illiterate.
United Nations and military efforts have made some progress in rebuilding the learning system. As of March, more than 2,500 of the country's 18,000 schools have seen some improvements.
When the interim government took power it assumed the responsibility of restoring Iraq's debilitated school system. However, Marines are likely to help out where the can with small civil affairs projects.