UCI News

UCI reaches out to Iraqi schoolchildren

UCI students fill a need not met by traditional relief workers in Iraq - providing school supplies to children.

May 18, 2009

Graduation will be bittersweet for Danielle Al-Chalati, founding member of UC Irvine’s Baghdad School Project.

Leaving the project behind in June will be difficult because “It’ll be hard to take a step back. But I have a lot of confidence in the students leading the effort next year,” the international studies and political science senior says.

The student-run group raises money to buy classroom supplies for Iraqi schoolchildren. In three years, it has shipped 7,500 packets of notebooks, pencils, erasers and rulers to the war-torn country.

“Children in Iraq lack the basic educational tools that American students take for granted,” Al-Chalati says. “We hope the donations can enrich their classroom environment.”

The project also fills a need not met by established relief groups, which focus on such basics as food, medical supplies and clothing. “Education makes all the difference in the world,” Al-Chalati says. “A child may dream of being a doctor or the president, but without education those dreams cannot be fulfilled.”

A branch of the Dean’s Ambassadors Council in the School of Social Sciences, the Baghdad School Project works with the U.S. Military Postal Service to deliver the supplies, saving thousands of dollars in shipping costs. But raising money is still the group’s biggest challenge. Each packet costs about $20, and the project relies entirely on donations.

The group’s adviser, program coordinator Teresa Neighbors, says members pay attention to such details as choosing supplies that feature cartoon or comic-book characters. “In the end, it’s all about students helping other students,” she says.

The Baghdad School Project is hosting a reception and panel discussion 7 p.m. Thursday, May 21, in Social Science Plaza A, Room 2112. “Rebuilding Iraq: One Student at a Time” will feature social sciences lecturer Bojan Petrovic, an expert on the Middle East; Iraqi-born former Washington Post reporter Omar Fekeiki; and Iraq War veterans John A. Hanson and David Curry. More: 949-824-9229 or teresa.neighbors@uci.edu.