Engineer Makes Special Deliveries to Iraqi Children
By Polli Barnes Keller
Special to American Forces Press Service
MOSUL, Iraq, Jan. 10, 2006 After years of tyranny and war, the children of Iraq have almost nothing and are very grateful for each gift they receive.
(Left to right) A school principal in Dohuk, Iraq; Lana Aziz; and Lt. Col. Greg Gunter, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region North deputy commander discuss the delivery of donations to the school. Photo by Polli Barnes Keller
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Lana Aziz, an Iraqi citizen and junior engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, coordinates the collection and distribution of shoes and school supplies for Iraqi children. With each gift she gives to a needy child, she also gives joy and hope to their lives.
Through her childhood, Aziz watched as American organizations sent clothing and items to local churches in her community. She watched as the goods were distributed, and noticed some didn't make it to the families that needed it the most. Dismayed at the lack of support for American generosity and the misdirection of goods, Aziz decided if she could, she would do something about it.
While on assignment for USACE in the local villages last year, she found that opportunity. She noticed the children lacked proper shoes for the cold environment. This gave her the idea to collect shoes for the needy and make sure they were distributed to those who truly needed them.
Aziz put the word out through co-workers, friends and family that she was collecting shoes. Word spread quickly, and before she knew it, shoes came rolling in. Church groups from the States, Aziz's family, and friends of friends rose to the challenge and collected about 150 pairs of shoes, which Aziz distributed in Dohuk, Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah. The collection effort was a huge success and well received by those in need, she said.
Now, almost seven months later, packages again began arriving addressed to Aziz. She opened the boxes and was happily surprised to find not only shoes for the children, but school supplies and toys, as well. Aziz's response to the unexpected generosity was, "If they send it, I will deliver it!"
Word travels fast when there is good news to spread, and the story of Aziz delivering goods to schools last year made it all the way to Texas and Utah. Donations came not only from Aziz's family members, but also from friends' families, friends of friends, churches, schools and large corporations. Contributors included the Southwest Airlines maintenance and engineering department in Dallas; Hewlett Packard in Richardson, Texas; and the second grade class from the William Penn Elementary School in Salt Lake City. Aziz received toys, school supplies, candy and shoes. Last week, she and Lt. Col. Greg Gunter, USACE Gulf Region North deputy commander, traveled to two schools in Dohuk and delivered the goods.
"It was an honor to take part in such a noble and worthwhile effort initiated by Ms. Aziz," Gunter said. "It was heartwarming to see that the generous gifts sent from within Iraq, as well as the United States, found their way to the children at these two schools."
The class in Utah received photographs of their delivered donated goods. "My students and I were ecstatic when we put your photos on the big screen and saw our red Christmas houses," their teacher commented. "Seriously -- we went crazy!"
She added, "What a joy it was to actually see our school supplies and cards in the hands of those beautiful Iraqi children!"
In one year of employment with USACE, Aziz moved up within the ranks from interpreter to junior engineer. She graduated from Mosul University in 2004 with a degree in computer engineering and worked part time for the U.S. Embassy on Forward Operating Base Courage.
(Polli Barnes Keller is the deputy public affairs officer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region North.)