'Nothing equals education'

Iraq, May 23, 2011

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Forty-four-year-old Kareem Kateh has been a farmer in southern Iraq his entire life. He didn’t have many other options: the nearest school was too far away to complete his primary school education. Still he made a good living, and was able to buy a large plot of land for his family.

But his five daughters faced the same challenge: no school in the area relegated them to limited choices in life.

Since 2003 Mercy Corps, with help from local council representatives, has worked together with their constituents to identify pressing community needs, develop projects to address those needs, and advocate for their inclusion in provincial workplans and budgets.

Unfortunately, these demands often fall on deaf ears. For years, Kareem appealed to the local government to build a school. But none was ever built.

But communities can also appeal for funding from Mercy Corps and the Community Action Program, sponsored by USAID. One requirement of these projects — ranging from school rehabilitation to upgrading electricity networks — is that the community and local government make contributions. The “match” can be in the form of labor or other services, land donation, or money given toward completion of the project.

When Kareem's sub-district formed a Community Action Group in 2009, he was nominated to serve as a representative because of his dedication to education. Recently, the group approved a project to construct a three-classroom and restroom facilities near where Kareem Kateh lives. Kareem donated the land for the project. "Nothing equals education," he said.

The new satellite building was agreed upon in consultation with the administrative staff of Jabir Al Ansary — the school that's three kilometers away — and the Directorate of Education, who have promised to provide teaching staff and furniture.

Donations like Kareem Kateh’s highlight the commitment that people have to their communities, and their hope for long-term development, after too many years of violence and instability.