Trash Dump Turned Into Children's Treasure
By Spc. Jan Critchfield, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 8, 2004 With several million dollars worth of infrastructure projects under way in Sadr City, the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team has been moving forward to bring progress to the once conflict-torn streets in eastern Baghdad.
Although larger, more expensive projects such as sewage lift stations and electrical distribution networks will benefit the people of Baghdad in the long run, smaller, quicker projects allow Multinational Force Iraq to show the local people its true colors -- that it's in Baghdad to help the Iraqi people.
"As we do patrols in the area (Iraqi citizens) have always been good to us and helped us out as much as possible," said 1st Lt. Gerald Kubicek, a platoon leader with Company A, 20th Engineer Battalion. "So we thought that since we use their neighborhood so much, we ought to give a little back."
On Nov. 30, company soldiers teamed up with local children and cleaned a trash- covered area in the middle of an eastern Baghdad neighborhood, converting the land into a park. Infrequent visits from the city's trash trucks and no trash bins for people to use had resulted in what was turning into a trash dump, threatening the health of those living nearby.
Seeing U.S. vehicles entering the area, local children ran to meet the soldiers and ask for candy, which soldiers often bring for them. This time, however, the soldiers distributed tools that the children could use to help in the cleanup.
"Kids always approach us and want candy, but this time we had something for them to do. We wanted to encourage the local children to help themselves by using the rakes and shovels we provided to help clean up," Kubicek said. "Since there were a lot of kids out there, we gave school supplies as a token of our appreciation after the work was done."
Kubicek said getting the neighborhood energized was essential to the success of the project. "We tried to draw the community together by getting different families to help us with this project," he said.
Since trash disposal had been the problem that made the field unusable in the first place, a trash pit was constructed so families have a centralized place for refuse.
The following day, a local contractor delivered two swing sets and other playground equipment, giving local kids a place to hang out and play soccer, the Iraqi national pastime.
"Now we have a nice, open park, two swing sets, and a place for them to deposit their garbage, instead of having it laying all over the place," Kubicek said. "We have a vested interest in giving something back to the Iraqi people. Projects like this one are a reminder that the American people are here to help."
(Army Spc. Jan Critchfield is assigned to the 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)