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US Troops Help Ready Iraqi School for New Term - 2003-10-01


Iraqi students began returning to school Wednesday, hoping for better times after years of war and economic hardship. VOA's Michael Drudge visited a school in north Baghdad.

Excitement filled the air at the Dufaf al-Neil School on Wednesday as hundreds of students arrived for classes.

The school, near the American-occupied Baghdad airport, has been recently refurbished by U.S. troops and Iraqi contractors.

Gone are the photos of Saddam Hussein, and the walls have been painted white, covering up pro-Hussein graffiti.

Among the students are two daughters of Faiza Noman, who lives in the al-Furat neighborhood of north Baghdad, near the scene of some heavy bombardment during the U.S.-led invasion in March. Mrs. Noman says her girls were so excited they hardly slept the night before school. She said she's glad and shares their happiness after all the hardships they have suffered because of war and dictatorship.

As Mrs. Noman spoke, some American soldiers delivered school supplies donated by American civilians. Army Major Greg Softy says he decided to use the Internet to drum up support for Iraqi schools. [See link.]

"These are all donations of our immediate friends and family of soldiers that work here, and as some of the organizations pick it up back in the States, and church groups and other schools, it will get much bigger from here," predicted Major Softy.

Army Lieutenant Colonel Charles Williams says the school project has helped build better relations with the local community, and has boosted the morale of his troops.

"Regardless of what you may hear and see elsewhere, and there are still some issues with attacks and resistance, but the children's faces don't lie," he said. "Whatever effort you are making, it's making a difference for them right now."

In other parts of Baghdad, students are still waiting for schools to open. Reconstruction is still going on at many schools, but Iraqi officials say they hope most of the classrooms can be ready by Saturday.