RAMADI, Iraq - The future of Iraq lies in the hands of its youngest citizens, and the future of those children lies in their ability to get a quality education.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region District in Iraq recognizes this important connection and places a high priority on the construction and renovation of schools as part of the reconstruction mission in Iraq.
With more than 1,135 school projects completed and operational, USACE finished and turned the Al-Mazraa elementary school in western city of Ramadi over to the Iraqi Ministry of Education this week.
Paul Ijames, project engineer for the Al-Mazraa School and several other schools in Al-Anbar providence, has been overseeing a variety of essential service projects in Iraq over the past 18-months.
"I've been involved with many things, but school projects like this are right at the top of the list since they provide many children access to an education they would otherwise not have been able to get," said Ijames.
"We're making a difference in people's lives," he added.
According to Ijames, one of reasons this project was so exceptional was due to the pride the Iraqi workers continued to display throughout the construction of the school.
"It's their children, nephews and nieces, and other kids residing in that neighborhood who will be going to school there. They now have a good environment in which they can learn."
The new six-classroom schoo replaces an old two-room house currently being used as a school. It will accommodate 200 to 300 students and their teachers. The complex includes administrative offices, playground, guard house, backup generator, a security wall around the entire school property, and school furniture.
Local leaders, residents as well as the children are excited about the completion of the new school.
Hamed, a 7-year-old boy who will attend the new school, stood at the entrance of the school with his friend and said with a big smile, "This will be my school - thank you for giving me a new school."
Beyond the bricks and mortar, schools like Al-Mazraa, represents an investment in the future of Iraq - its children.
"You can see it in the smiles of the local residents who are diligently working everyday to provide a brighter future for their children and grandchildren. They know that the key to success is hard work and education. Just like in the United States, their schools are the heart of their community - a place for hope," added Ijames.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq has completed thousands of reconstruction projects in partnership with the U.S. Government and the Government of Iraq. Since 2004, USACE has completed 5,257 projects throughout Iraq valued at more than $9.1 billion, and has 350 projects ongoing.