CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq - Members of the provincial reconstruction team in Iraq's Dhi Qar province are building Iraq's self-sufficiency by teaching fundamental skills to civilians in the province's new, specialized training facility.
These skills include teaching literacy to Iraqi soldiers, certifying English teachers and educating farmers to enhance the local economy through agriculture, Anna Prouse, a team leader, said.
"One of the main goals we have here is to build capacity of the province," she said. "So, by building this training center, which is built on an Iraqi base, we are helping the province by teaching the locals how to continue to perform tasks that allow them to get the most out of their resources."
In the past year, the team has taught students how to produce and use buffalo milk so nothing goes to waste. They also are teaching students how to process dates from the palm trees flourishing throughout Iraq to create syrup, much like maple syrup.
Honey also is produced at the school, which is a surprise to many locals in the area who didn't know bees could survive in Iraq's harsh environment, Prouse said.
Once students learn how to process food products, the team teaches them how to package the food so they can eventually start exporting the products, a skill that will help build Iraq's economy, she explained.
The students are dedicated to learning everything they can from the team, Prouse said.
"One day, the electricity went out and, instead of going home and cooling off, the students stayed in the hot school to continue learning," she said.
Prouse praised the dedication she has seen within the literacy program for Iraqi soldiers. "They are very enthusiastic about learning," she said. "They come in early and stay late to talk to the tutors for extra help, all because they want to be able to be in the army and serve their country."
The Iraqi army has made it mandatory for its soldiers to know how to read and write in order to serve, Prouse said.
"Because our program has been so successful, the school will begin expanding and begin medical training starting in October," she said. "Surgeons and other medical professionals will come in and train the students in that field."
Army Brig. Gen. Jerry Lang, deputy commanding general of support for Multi-National Division - South, met with the team's development committee and discussed the school's success along with other projects.
"One of the things we are looking for are projects that fall in our projection plan," Lang said. "[These are] projects that improve central services and create jobs that will continue to help Iraq long after we have returned home.
"We are willing to look at anything and help you with it," he continued. "You have our commitment that we will continue to support you and the [provincial reconstruction team] with these projects."