Today was my first time interacting with the Iraqi people. I volunteered to help with the Hearts for Baghdad program, where we visit a medical clinic on base and play with the children who come in.
We first gave out coloring books and boxes of crayons but ran out quickly. Just like American children in kindergarden, if you don’t have a big bucket of crayons for everyone to pull from, they won’t share their personal boxes. Many children kept coming up, asking for crayons, but all we could do was borrow one from another child.
We then took out the soap bubble blowers but again, each child wanted his/her own. The only way to do it was to hold the bottle and pass the wand around, ensuring each child got a chance. But they were still grabby, each one trying to take the bottle when his/her turn came. Eventually I passed the bottle off to another military person so I could find something they all could do without having to share.
I decided to try showing them how to make paper airplanes. That actually went pretty well; some of the children were able to get good distance from their planes. One boy somehow made his turn circles, like a boomerang.
But the thing they wanted most was footballs, a.k.a. soccer balls. As usual, they couldn’t share; each one wanted his/her own ball. We eventually took out a pink football and took it outside for everyone to play. But that wasn’t good enough. While some kids played with it, others kept coming up asking for their own to take with them.
The Army policy at the clinic was to minimize the amount of non-medical supplies given away. That way the locals won’t be coming to the clinic just for the freebies. But, people donate these items for us to give out, so what’s the point of having them if we don’t give them away?
For the most part, the kids seemed to have a good time. The language barrier was an issue but I dug out my “language survival cards” and a basic Iraqi language CD so hopefully I will be better able to communicate next time. Of course, the big problem people seem to forget when they are learning a foreign language is that, even though you may have learned a few words and phrases, unless you also studied the possible responses, you still won’t understand what the other person is saying.
Sadly, most of the language materials I received are more tactical in concept, things like, “Are there explosives?” and “Put your hands up.” Nothing that really helps when actually talking to civilians in a civilized manner. I’m going to see if there is a language dictionary at the exchange the next time I go there.
I didn’t bring my camera along this time because I went to the site directly from work but some other people brought theirs. If I can get copies of their photos, I will post them to my Flickr account.
If anyone wants to donate items, just post a comment. I looked at Crayola and other sites to see if they would provide donations but they don’t seem to be set up to donate to the military in Iraq. Either you have to be near their headquarters in the US or use an international organization. Either way, you have to be a non-profit organization and register with them. Since the military doesn’t have the time or initiative to work with these companies on a professional level, it’s up to the individual military personnel to solicit donations.
Personally, I’m looking for crayons and soccer balls since those seemed to be the big ticket items today. So if you want to help, please let me know and I will give you the address to send items to.