Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011
BOOK DONATIONS SPREAD KNOWLEDGE TO IRAQ'S BASRAH UNIVERSITY
MANHATTAN -- Kansas State University is supplying stacks of textbooks to help rebuild Iraq.
K-State is partnering with the Manhattan-based nonprofit Help Us Learn ... Give us Hope to provide textbooks to Iraq's Basrah University. The books will help train a new generation of professionals, including engineers and agricultural business leaders.
Post-war Iraq doesn't have enough teaching materials and textbooks for its students, according to the United Nations, and about 5 million Iraqi citizens are illiterate.
K-State President Kirk Schulz and other university administrators visited Iraq in November as guests of Fort Riley's 1st Infantry Division. One of those administrators was Art DeGroat, director of military affairs at K-State and a retired Army lieutenant colonel.
"While we went to Iraq as a developmental activity that contributed to our military partnership, we discovered an opportunity to help, and that is simply what K-Staters do," DeGroat said.
Basrah University was once a crown jewel in the higher education system of the Middle East, DeGroat said.
"During our visit we discovered years of atrophy and neglect, but we also met committed, brave and persistent university leaders hoping for a brighter day," he said. "K-State wants, in some small way, to be part of this new dawn for Basrah University and its students."
Saddam Hussein once forced Iraqi universities to follow strict textbook guidelines, but those rules have since been lifted.
"In Iraq a lot of the old textbooks have been destroyed, looted or burned, and now there's a tremendous shortage of textbooks," said retired Army Col. Gary LaGrange, who founded Help Us Learn ... Give us Hope in 2008. "Teachers and professors at all levels have made pleas to us to send them books."
Some of the roughly 10,000 textbooks collected from K-State students, staff and faculty will be shipped later this year from the Manhattan National Guard Armory to Iraq with a deploying military unit. Troops will deliver textbooks and school supplies to Basrah University, which will distribute leftover books to other schools and libraries in southern Iraq.
"We're helping empower Basrah University to be the champion for rebuilding Iraq's education system," DeGroat said.
This effort isn't the first time K-State has provided textbooks to universities in the war-torn countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. K-State has donated a total of about 25,000 textbooks to Help Us Learn ... Give us Hope.
K-State Libraries, the College of Engineering and the department of English donated books to Kabul University and Balkh University in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2009, said Daryl Youngman, associate professor at K-State Libraries.
The donations to Basrah University could launch more partnerships between K-State and the Iraqi university, DeGroat said.
"Much remains to be done, but we are off to a sound start," he said. "We envision the textbook donation project as a powerful first step that shows we are committed."
Those interested in donating books or school supplies can visit http://www.helpuslearngiveushope.org to learn more.