HAQLANIYAH, Iraq -- Marines with Team 3, Detachment 2, 6th Civil Affairs Group, traveled to a boys’ school in the city here Nov. 3 and handed out book bags and other school supplies to children.
More than 150 children at Eshma Elementary School took time out of their school day to receive book bags with the saying, “You are the future of Iraq,” written in Arabic.
“When the kids bring the bags home and show them to their parents and other children, we hope it will help to get other kids back in school,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua D. Vandiver, a Redding, Calif. native and civil affairs team chief.
Helping hand out the bags was Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, the company currently operating in the area keeping the streets safe enough for the children to go to school.
The company’s executive officer, Capt. Timothy R. Strabbing, talked with the teachers and students before the book bags were handed out.
The Hudsonville, Mich. native said the bags given out were a symbol of how the U.S. military cares about the future of Iraq. Emphasizing the importance of education, Strabbing added that the educated children of Iraq is it’s future.
This was the first school Marines took book bags to in Haqlaniyah. With 15 schools throughout the city, the Marines plan to visit every school in the area.
“We are trying to go to every school and give out the book bags,” commented Vandiver. “But they have to open again before we will go there.”
Out of the 15 schools, only three are open and operating. Although most are already operational and in need of just small renovations, the civil affairs team is working on fixing all of them and encouraging parents to send their children to school again.
“One school we are working hard on now is the Al Shemea/Al Shehbah Elementary School,” Vandiver said. “It has been severely damaged and is a priority for us.”
The visit to the school was also to talk to the school’s director and other directors from other schools in the area. The intent was to see what other things the schools needed to provide better education to the children.
“If there is one thing I’d really like to see in the city, it is all the kids back in school,” Vandiver said. “That why we go to these places.”
When all the students in the school received their new book bags, other children on the street lined up in the courtyard to see if they could get one of the free gifts. In an effort to get them to attend school again, the team members made a deal with the children.
“If we give you a book bag, then you have to talk to your parents about sending you back to school,” Vandiver said to the children using the team’s translator. “If you want more stuff like this, then you have to go to your school.”
And more gifts they will get as the team plans to frequently visit schools throughout the area give supplies and other things. Just like the student’s new book bags say, the team believes the children are the future of Iraq.