An Eclectic Mix: Schools, Commerce, Cemeteries, and Ice Cream – Day 4 in Iraq by Steve Clemens
Our schedule was shifted for today when we noticed our school visits were on the itinerary for Friday when schools are closed for the weekly religious day. So off we traveled to three different schools. The elementary school principal met us but had to check with the local Ministry of Education before giving us access to the classrooms. Since the class we visited was 6 year-old girls, Joan Haan brought out the pictures and notes written by children from St. Paul’s Pilgrim Lutheran Church.
The girls beamed with excitement because of the attention they received from visitors from far away. I gave them each a packet of Skittles or Starburst candy from an after-Halloween sale but none of the girls opened it right away, carefully watching their teacher interact with these strangers. We couldn’t stay very long with two other schools to visit but did manage to photograph the water filter in the bathroom installed a year ago by the Muslim Peacemaker Team. Sami checked it out to make sure it was functioning properly and to check to see when the filter would need to be replaced.
The second stop was at a school for the blind and the Principal told us there were only 6 or 7 of them in the country and this school provided services for about 30 children. One student demonstrated how he used the computer with headphones and other adaptive equipment while a younger student read letters from a braille sheet after instruction from a teacher. This school too had a recently installed MPT water filter.
At the High School we discovered the Superintendent was an old classmate of Sami Rasouli, Sameera served as an Administrator, and Mohammed was a graduate of that program: an MPT triple-header. Our delegation split up to go to different classes and I went to a biology class and then an English language class. The students were bright and engaged. The Superintendent asked Kathy McKay if our Sister City program could secure 5-6 scholarships to colleges in Minnesota and we will certainly pass their interest on to the University of MN and other Twin Cities area schools.
Next stop was at the Najaf Chamber of Commerce and a visit with my good friend, Zuhair Sharba, the Chairman of a bustling and growing enterprise. Besides seeking new business partnerships and job opportunities, the center also has a small business program, a special program for women looking to start businesses or needing expert advice and assistance, and an arbitration center to resolve disputes which might arise when international companies try to fit their programs into Iraq’s reality.
After meeting their board and staff, touring their facilities, and exchanging greetings and gifts, we were treated to a delicious lunch of fresh-grilled carp, chicken, vegetables and spreads, and fresh fruit. We didn’t sit down to eat until after 3 PM so some of us were fairly ravenous.