AN NASIRIYA, Iraq -- If a child is fortunate enough to be born in America, he can expect to be educated at a public school, where books are provided and the bathrooms are equipped with toilets and sinks.
The children of An Nasiriya, Iraq no such luxuries. They suffered under Saddam Hussein's former regime, and while they yearn for education, the dilapidated state of their schools limit learning potential.
Twenty-six Marines from Weapons Co., 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, are currently working to help reconstruct three schools here so the children can continue an education interrupted by war.
"After the war, the schools in this area were looted of nearly everything," said Queens, N.Y., native Sgt. Terrance D. James, Weapons Company squad leader and project leader for the schools. "They were stripped of everything from doors to plumbing to the glass in their windows."
Most of the Marines' efforts are concentrated on the El Gadisiyatian Middle School, located a few blocks away from Weapons Company's position. Initially, the Marines met with the principle of the school to ascertain what was needed most to create a positive learning environment.
"We asked the principle to make a 'laundry list' of things the school needed, and we have tried to accommodate his requests," said James.
The Marines have been able to obtain blackboards for every classroom, one fan and several lights for each room at the school, doors with knobs and locks for each room, record books for the school's staff, and books and other supplies for the students.
"We're in the process right now of trying to acquire plumbing for the building so the children will have a place to use the bathroom during the school day," said James.
Due to a limited budget, the Marines haven't been able to do as much work at the two other schools. They have done small projects to improve the buildings and boost the morale of the children who attend classes there.
At the Lel Hooria High School the Marines painted over murals containing pro-Ba'ath messages that Saddam Hussein required every high school to display. According to Lynbrook, N.Y., native Sgt. Timothy E. Ledwith, assault man with Weapons Co., one message read, "We are all warriors for Saddam, and we must train ourselves to carry out his fight."
At a school for deaf children here, the Marines have collected another list of needs, but face limited funding.
"We are limited because the middle school project is so large," said James. "We still wanted to do something for the deaf children though, so we have been taking all the stuff from our care packages over to the school for them. The principle asked us if we would just come by and visit with the kids when we could, because the kids really enjoy the time we spend with them. That's a good feeling."
According to Capt. Nguyen K. Tsan, field auditing officer for 2/25, the battalion has spent $60,000 on refurbishing schools all over the Dhiqar Province. The efforts have not been in vain, because coalition forces have won the hearts of an entire generation of Iraqis.
"These projects at the schools are bringing us a closer relationship with the Iraqis," said James. "We're showing the Iraqi kids, who grew up brainwashed that Americans were evil, we are concerned with their education and well-being."