By Senior Airman Chawntain Sloan
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- Paper and pencils may just be typical offices supplies to many Americans. But for teachers and school children in Iraq, they are like buried treasure.
Children from Al Assa Primary School gathered with eager anticipation of receiving new pens and pencils during a school supply exchange May 22 in Kadamiyah, Iraq.
Operation Pencil Drop provided the Iraqi school with three much-needed boxes of supplies that also included colored pencils, markers, lined and blank writing paper, colored construction paper and spiral writing notebooks.
Aside from the writing utensils given to the children for their immediate use, Lt. Col. Daniel Le Page, Multi-National Corps - Iraq chief of elections, presented the school's headmaster the remainder of supplies that were donated by Memorial School in his hometown of East Hampton, Conn.
"I initially approached my daughter's teacher, Mary Jane Traska, and told her I would be willing to do a class pen pal exchange," said Le Page. "Because of the position I am in at work, I was unable to make that happen, but the class still wanted to connect with the Iraqi children."
"I spoke to Lt Col. Le Page's wife, Joann, and asked if we could send the school children in Iraq some school supplies," said Traska, a second grade teacher at Memorial
School. "Lt. Col. Le Page thought it was a great idea, and made plans to coordinate with an Iraqi school."
While Le Page worked with the Civil Affairs Team Alpha from the 3rd Infantry Division to find a school in need, Traska rallied the support of teachers, students and families of the second and third grade classes at Memorial School.
"Coordinating the move out to the field was the most challenging aspect," said Le Page. "In this area, you just don't get in a car and drive down the street.
It took close coordination with Maj. Carrie Acree, the CATA team leader from the infantry division that has responsibility north and west of Baghdad."
After six weeks of gathering supplies, Traska shipped the supplies along with a letter and group picture from her class.
"The children helped me compile a letter and four questions to ask the children at the school in Iraq. For example, my class wanted to know, "What kinds of games do you play? What do you study in school?"" said Traska.
Because it was the last week of school in Iraq and a response from the Al Assa Primary students was unlikely, Le Page documented the visit and sent a video and pictures to the Memorial School students.
"I spoke to many of the Iraqi children during the course of the day, and I sent a letter that answered some of the questions posed by the class," said Le Page.
While the letter answered their questions, Traska said the video and pictures spoke to her and the children on a whole different level.
"Viewing the video and pictures was a tremendous emotional experience for me," said Traska. "To view the beautiful children, townspeople, officials and Soldiers all participating in the delivery of the school supplies was touching and made me cry with happiness.
The children said, "Look how happy they are!" and "They wear the same type of clothing and ride bicycles like we do!"
The project may have been a huge undertaking, but both Le Page and Traska contend that the overall support they received on both ends made it a success.
"So many people were involved in this project -- the second and third grade children at Memorial School and their teachers, the parents of the second and third grade students, our PTA at Memorial School, Dr. Fitzsimmons, our principal, the whole group of individuals in Iraq, especially Lt Col. Le Page who was so kind and dedicated to the delivery of these school supplies and with the help of his friend, Lt. Col. Phil Andrews who provided us with the pictures and video of our new friends in Iraq," said Traska.
"All this experience has brought our worlds a little closer to each other. It had a tremendous impact on all our lives."