Girls in the Al Amal 4-H Club giggle as they recite the 4-H pledge and the Iraqi national anthem Aug. 7 at the beginning of a meeting in Baghdad. The Al Amal 4-H Club, founded in June, has already given the children opportunities to visit local museums, plant trees for their community and begin to learn skills relating to animal care and computers. Photo by Pfc. Emily Knitter
A cartoon image of a sheep is projected onto a white wall, with arrows pointing to different areas around its body. The room is filled with children staring intently at the wall, who excitedly raise their hands when they know the name of one of the parts.
For these children, this is now a typical Saturday afternoon. But for Iraq, this represents how far the country has come, and how bright the future is. They are part of the Al Amal 4-H Club, the first of its kind in Baghdad, and one of very few in Iraq.
The 4-H club is widely popular in the United States, with more than 6 million members across the country, according to the national 4-H website. The club focuses on educating young people in three areas: healthy living, community service and science, engineering and technology.
Having a program similar to that in Iraq means a lot to the reforming country.
“The children are the future,” said Mary Kerstetter, agricultural adviser for the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team in Southern Baghdad, and one of the ePRT advisers who spearheaded the creation of the Iraqi 4-H clubs. “By teaching them how to take better care of their sheep and to use laptops, among other things, they will be a step ahead and will be better prepared to take care of their families in the future.”
The Al Amal 4-H Club was created in June and most of the members heard about the club through word of mouth. The children are already learning skills in agriculture, computer operations, public speaking, community service and leadership.
Although Kerstetter played an important role in the creation of these clubs, the children and adult volunteers have begun taking over most of the operations, planning activities for the club and community service opportunities.
“We planted trees by a school to help the community,” said Abdullah, a member of the club, “Everything we do, we do as a group. The work felt important, and I like feeling like I belong to something.”
Members of the Al Amal 4-H Club talk about their new project books, in which they have to record all the work they are doing with their sheep, Aug. 7 during a meeting in Baghdad. The members are each given a ewe to raise and care for as part of the club, which along with focusing on animal husbandry teaches the children valuable skills in leadership, public speaking and community service. Photo by Pfc. Emily Knitter
Among all the children, unity is a positive point for being a member of the club.
“I like everything (about the club),” said Rusul, a girl in the club. “But the anthems are my favorite part, the 4-H pledge and the national anthem. Because the club pledge is part of the club, and the national anthem is part of my country.”
The pledge and anthem are recited at the beginning of each meeting to remind the members what the club is about, and to honor their country.
The 4-H pledge explains the meaning behind each “H” in the name.
As the children stand during the beginning of the meetings, and look at papers with the words translated to Arabic, they recite: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to greater service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.”
Girls in the Al Amal 4-H Club laugh as they look through cartoon books illustrating proper first aid procedures during a meeting Aug. 7 in Baghdad. The members of the club, founded in June, have already planted trees at a near by school, visited a local art museum and begun learning about animal care and computer operations. Photo by Pfc. Emily Knitter
One of the main focuses of this club is sheep. Each member was given a ewe to raise and care for. Each ewe is tagged so the club can account for the animal easily, and to protect the sheep.
“The culture here is unique,” Kerstetter said. “I have been told there may have been a problem with parents trying to sell the children’s sheep. My main goal is to protect the children, and this was an easy way to identify their sheep.”
The members also agree to donate the first baby their sheep has back to the club, so another member can have one as well.
The children are really excited to care for the sheep.
“I haven’t gotten a ewe yet, but it should be really fun because I have never taken care of a sheep before,” said Yousif, another member of the club.
Yousif is also the media officer for the club, which means he creates slide presentations of important activities they have done. Yousif said he likes to explore the computers, and that he knew about computers a little before he joined the club, but not about slide presentations.
The club has created hats and T-shirts with its logo on them, which some members wear to every meeting. The members also made coffee mugs, clocks and other promotional memorabilia to raise awareness of the club.
Already a success, there are plans to start more branches across the Baghdad area because the current club has a long waiting list of more children who want to participate.
The club allows the children to step out of their daily lives and do good deeds within their community while gaining valuable life lessons. In the past two months, the children have visited local museums, planted trees for their community and begun learning skills relating to animal care and computers.
As Iraq continues to become more stable and pushes towards freedom, it is programs like this that will support that growth, and begin developing the next generation of leaders for the country.
“I like everything (about the club),” Rusul said. “I want to keep being big part of it, and do a lot more community work because that is a lot of fun.”
Story by Pfc. Emily Knitter