I am copying this request from Jim Romenesko's Letters forum at Poynter.org.
Bob Bateman is my hero today.
(Anyone who feels compelled to make snide or derogatory comments about Iraqi kids not deserving our help should save us both the time: them the time it takes to type their asinine rantings and me the time it will take to delete them.)
Ten months ago, not long after my arrival here in Iraq, a friend posted to this letters page a personal plea for some reading material, and perhaps a little French Vanilla non-dairy creamer. The response from Romenesko readers, and those at Eric Alterman's site, overwhelmed. As an example, your generosity buried us beneath one hundred and thirty pounds of French Vanilla creamer. Have you any idea of the cubic volume which that much creamer occupies? Just as importantly, at least for my own sense of mental balance, were subscriptions to the New Yorker, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal ... all unexpected, each of which did its part in preserving an important part of each of us here.
Now I have something else to ask.
I have carried weapons for seventeen years, weapons which made journalism possible in this country. But I have known from the outset that ultimately, only journalists can save this country. There is a catch. In this I refer to neither American journalists, nor European ones, but Iraqis. I live in a city in which Boss Tweed would feel completely at ease. I want to help create his Thomas Nast, or the Iraqi Upton Sinclair, and there is only one way to do that. Education.
Accordingly, I browbeat my peers into helping me in the de facto adoption of a school here. It's just one school, but it is a start. There are 450 grade school boys (a riotous unruly pack), about 400 grade school girls (well behaved and groomed), and an as-of-yet undetermined number of High Schoolers. The school is ramshackled, dirty, and underprovisioned in every category but the dedication of the teachers. I want to change the first three parts of that situation, and I want you all to help.
So, if you want to send some school supplies, this is, generically, what the kids need. This list is not exhaustive (please, feel free to use your imagination as well), but can be used as a starting point.
First, the basics:
Number 2 Pencils and pencil sharpeners
Tablets of Paper (spiral notebooks especially)
Folders and/or organizers
Staplers and Staples (for the teachers)
Then, if you're feeling fancy or expansive:
* Bookbags (Iraqi kids have now seen American television. They see our kids wearing bookbags and want them too. Go figure.)
* Coloring Books
* Art kits (watercolor paints, etc)
* Science projects (should be simple, although most science teachers can read some English here)
* Discarded (but working) computers, printers, and paper.
* Dry erase boards and markers
Guiding principals should be to keep it simple, and it should not be something needing translation. Also, and this should be obvious, but nothing with any religious overtones at all. (FSM be praised) If you really want to do it right, buy some one-gallon bags and package the supplies in batches (so that each kid can be given a bag with supplies all at once). That way we can walk into a classroom and hand out 30 bags to 30 kids all at one pop. You know the deal, if you're going to chew gum in the classroom ... you have to have enough for everyone. We try to make sure (with their teachers) that everyone gets an equal amount. We are also currently working with the teachers to find out what their "wish list" might be.
The person to whom you should send your donations is:
SFC L. Wensink
APO AE 09316
SFC Wensink will be here for ten more months. (I am only here for six more weeks myself, in mid-January 2006 and so will likely not see this project when it reaches full stride.) Include a note with your e-mail address in the package so that we can write back and thank you. Hopefully past that point we can set up something more direct to sustain the support for these schools. Feel free to cross post anywhere you think it might help. If you want to expand this (those of you who are editors) contact me and I'll write an editorial for you. Whatever it takes.
But even this is not enough. I want to make this one school a model, and to do that we need some expertise. I have a vision of an Iraqi High School where the kids learn how to do their own reporting. Where they have the ability to create (however rudimentary at the beginning) a school newspaper. A school where they learn who Nast and Sinclair were, or at least Amin Maalouf, and where they learn how honest words can change the world. That means (as appropriate) I want reporters who come here to Baghdad to GO to this school, with the blessings of their editors, and donate a day to teaching journalism to classrooms full of Iraqi kids. Not just this year, but for years to come. If you can do that, contact me and I'll give you the coordinates to the school (and directions).
Not every child will respond, of course. You all know that as well as I. Not every child wants to be a journalist, or a soldier, but without the right examples, what grows in their places is not good for the world. Without a beginning, we may never see the end here.
Thanks, and regards from Baghdad,