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Iraqi Students See What More Than $2 Million Can Do

By Pfc. Thomas Day, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

NORTHERN IRAQ, Oct. 9, 2003 – Summer vacation was anything but a vacation for the coalition soldiers and nongovernmental organizations involved with rebuilding more than 800 schools in Iraq's Ninevah Province, current home of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assualt).

The division's Commander's Emergency Relief Program, which draws from Iraqi government funds seized after the first Gulf War, has spent $2,040,513 so far on 330 completed school projects, including the recently opened Ninevah Province education headquarters in Mosul. More money has been directed to 382 more projects that have not yet been completed.

The 101st has made nearly a daily hobby of opening schools throughout Northern Iraq over the past three months. Lt. Col. Kevin Felix, 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery commander, opened three schools in the town of Tal Abtah Oct. 6.

"In the past, they had mud houses for schools," Felix said. "Now they have brick buildings."

Indeed, for many students and teachers in Northern Iraq, the schools they arrived at scarcely looked like the ones they left last June. Oct. 1 marked the first day of school for all public primary- and secondary-school students throughout Iraq.

Schools in need of simple supplies and new windows, or even a complete renovation, have received a helping hand from 101st Airborne Division CERP funds and nongovernmental organizations working with the soldiers.

"The students are eager to go back, especially those who are going to new, renovated schools," said Sgt. 1st Class Rocky Upchurch of New Deal, Texas, 431st Civil Affairs Battalion. Upchurch has worked with the education headquarters and numerous schools during the summer rush to rebuild schools. "It looks like their enrollment is going to be higher than the last two years," he noted.

Upchurch also has worked with several nongovernmental organizations from all over the globe, including the United Nations Development Program. The organizations have provided additional muscle with "a lot of the little stuff," including fixing nonfunctional rest rooms that made a normal school day quite a foul experience.

While early reviews are good on the multi-million dollar investment, the division has run into road bumps in the first week of school. One school in the town of Quyarrah, for example, was not holding classes five days after it was expected to open, despite a $2,500 grant to the faculty. When Capt. Kellie Rourke of Minneapolis, Minn., 101st Aviation Brigade, inspected the school Oct. 7, she said she found it filthy -- nowhere near ready for lessons.

"When we asked (the school faculty) about it, they said it was the guards' duty to clean the school," Rourke said. "We have a school like this, the Ministry of Education is providing them teachers, and yet they have taken so poor care of their school. We want them to demonstrate that this village cares about the school."

Students will now be taught at a nearby school until the building can be readied for class. Rourke noted that similar incidents were not frequent in the area.

"Every village has an educated (member of the local population). Those people are helping us," she said. "Many of the villagers are chipping in money and paying teachers themselves."

(Army Spc. Thomas Day is assigned to the 40th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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