(Photo by Nancy Nelson)
By Nancy Nelson
Cherokee County adults and children participate in a nationwide program which aims to assist our troops in reaching out to the Iraqi people. Operation Iraqi Children is an organization started by actor, Gary Sinise and author Laura Hillenbrand which enables Americans to send School Supply Kits to Iraqi children.
The need came about when American soldiers passed through Iraqi villages during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The soldiers were horrified at the condition of schools, which had been severely neglected under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
The children were crowded into sweltering one-room buildings without air conditioning, fans, windows, solid floors, or even toilets. The Iraqi students lack even the most basic supplies that American children take for granted.
Libraries and books are almost nonexistent and without these basic tools for education these children face an uphill struggle to learn.
American soldiers were so moved by the plight of these children that they took it upon themselves to help. They worked in small groups on their days off, gathered supplies sent by family members and church groups and delivered them to villages, sometimes even coming under fire.
The response and gratitude from the Iraqi people and their children has been tremendous and has gone a long way to build rapport with the Iraqi people while they rebuild their country under a free government.
Barb Weiland's husband, Jerry, is stationed in Iraq with the 482nd Transportation Army Reserve Unit from Cherokee. She brought the project to the attention of the Aurelia school staff, since their children attend school there.
The staff then worked with the students to gather the funds necessary to purchase supplies for the kits. Students in grades TK-4 at Aurelia Elementary collected $1 from each student to put together school kits for children in Iraq.
They were also able to enlist the help of HyVee Warehouse in Cherokee. They were able to donate additional supplies needed to put the kits together. Tod Hockenson, Assistance Vice President of Distribution said that this was great project to help soldiers build rapport with the Iraqi people and he was happy to be able help our local soldiers be a part of the project. He adds that some of his employees are members of the 482nd stationed in Iraq and was happy to help in any way he could.
The students were able to put together 50 school supply kits which will be taken to Kansas City by members of the 482nd Transportation Co. and from there delivered to American soldiers by Fed Ex. The kits are valued anywhere between $8 and $15 and contain about ten basic school supply items. It was interesting that they request colored pencils rather than crayons because the crayons would not last in the heat of Iraq.
To find out more about Operation Iraqi Children, their efforts, and how you can help, log onto operationiraqichildren.org.