We've all heard about the looting of the museums that took place after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Lesser known is the fact that, of Iraq's 20 universities and 40 technical colleges, many were burned, some were bombed and almost all were stripped of books and computers. At Baghdad University's College of Arts alone, over 175,000 books, journals and periodicals were incinerated. As the war continues to spiral out of control, the tragedy of the mission is obvious and is only compounded by the lack of supplies at the universities that still plagues the country today.
I'm here to ask for donations to help send textbooks to Baghdad and to universities all over Iraq.
More over the flip.
First, some background.
Shortly after the invasion, Dr. Safaa Al-Hamdani, a 1977 graduate of Baghdad University, and now a Professor of Biology at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, was moved to action upon hearing of the looting of the university from some of his former professors. To help, he decided to collect as many textbooks -- new and used, English-language, on all matter of subjects -- for Iraqi universities as he could. His initial goal of 5,000 books quickly turned into 11,000 books, donated by schools and organizations all over the country. Safaa sent these books to Baghdad in January of 2005 and the nonprofit organization Books For Baghdad was born.
Earlier this year Books For Baghdad launched another book drive, and my friend Robin Marcato started a Connecticut chapter to assist. She was unpaid and did it in her spare time (and even made the paper, check it out HERE!) but quickly found that it was an all-consuming endeavor. She too was overwhelmed with the response. Their collective goal of 10,000 books has long been surpassed -- their collection now approaches 20,000. 5,000 of those came from drives that Robin held at Yale University, Fairfield University and a local Borders Books. Robin soon found her garage filled with books stacked in piles 7ft high and she was confronted with the daunting task of getting them loaded onto palettes and then onto a truck (and eventually flown to Dr. Hamdani in Alabama and then off to Baghdad.)
So she did the obvious: she called the Marines. Sure, she thought it was a long shot but as her brother is a Marine serving overseas, she figured they might want to help one of their own. But hardly had she begun to ask for help when she was asked where she lived and told they'd be right over: "It's what we do, Ma'am." So when the truck arrived to take the 5,000 books she'd collected to the airport, Robin had two Marines to help her load the books onto the truck, one a Seargent, 24, who had been to Iraq in 2003 and a 20-year old Private who'd just returned from seven months in Fallujah. The books made their way to Alabama and arrived in Baghdad last week!
I'll let Robin elaborate on the importance of this organization:
Here in America, college is a rite of passage, an accepted and well-traveled path to adulthood. For years, it was the same for Iraq - in fact, it had one of the best school systems in the Middle East. However, an educated public is a tyrant's worst enemy, and so it is no surprise to hear that the school systems in Iraq have suffered greatly in the past 25 years.
When Coalition forces arrived in 2003, colleges, libraries, museums and archaeological sites were not protected, and as predicted, many of them were looted heavily or damaged by warfare. As a result of all the above, 60% percent of the population is currently illiterate and many of the once envied schools are in various states of disrepair. Now, a great deal of money from all over the world has been given to rebuild, and much more is needed. But as the professors at Baghdad University and others have told us, they still really need books and supplies. Not just for the students mind you, but for the teachers, some of whom are woefully years behind in training.
So that's why Books For Baghdad is doing this and why the need is so important. But let's face it; America is there partly because we wanted to free the Iraqi people. Epictitus essentially said that only the educated are free. And if we hold to that, we have a long way to go before these people know the true gift of liberty.
Which brings me to why I write here today. The shipment from Connecticut to Alabama was not cheap. Even with deep discounts on the part of UPS and various partners, once billed, Robin anticipates a four-figure charge, which will be placed on her mother's credit card. Books For Baghdad is a nonprofit without a major stream of capital, without an infrastructure to support its ambitions and without a permanent home. So, unfortunately, the money just isn't there right now to reimburse Robin for the shipping, let alone for the gas she's been out of pocket for going back and forth to New Haven and other places for book runs, various supplies she's purchased and the work she's missed. It's been an incredibly rewarding endeavor for Robin but she's currently in the hole $900 and I thought we could help try to chip away at that.
As we always say, even tiny amounts are appreciated and in this case, they truly would go a long way. Books For Baghdad is not currently equipped to accept online donations so if you are so inclined, checks would be greatly appreciated, and, of course, all donations are tax deductible.
Please make checks payable to:
Books For Baghdad/JSU Foundation
And please send to:
Books For Baghdad/JSU Foundation
700 Pelham Road North
Jacksonville, AL 36265
Thanks everyone. I appreciate it and Robin appreciates it. I hope we can do our thing to help Iraq get the textbooks it desperately needs so that its people can get the education they deserve.
And by the way, Dr. Hamdani has asked Robin to stay on in an official capacity as the Director of Books For Baghdad's Connecticut chapter and she is hoping to establish headquarters in Bridgeport, CT, once they raise the money to purchase space (Rep. Chris Shays has actually been really helpful with this.) So even beyond her immediate costs, there is plenty for the money to go toward.
In addition, Books For Baghdad is always in search of more books, as follows:
College Level Books Only: Science, Mathematics, Medicine, Computer Science, Technology, Finance and Engineering are most needed, as well as current encyclopedias and dictionaries. Other subjects are welcome but please no books about cooking, American culture, religion or erotica. All books in these subjects must be less than 5-10 years old. Computers, calculators, and medical school supplies are also welcome.
Those can be sent to the same address as above.
Thanks, everybody. And if you could, please spread the word about this very worthy cause.