AL-ASAD, Iraq --
Over 1,000 Iraqi children may soon have school supplies thanks to 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) with the launch of the Human Unity Begins project and the grand opening of a logistics center at Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron here May 19.
The Iraqi and American Friendship Project Logistics Center will serve as the supply warehouse for HUB, a humanitarian mission which provides backpacks and school supplies to children in need.
The HUB program, started by the 3rd MAW (Fwd.) chaplains, draws inspiration from Operation Backpack, an annual back-to-school program organized by Volunteers of America to provide backpacks and school supplies to children in need, according to Navy Lt. Frank Riley, a chaplain for Marine Aircraft Group 16.
“We use the acronym HUB, which is also the Arabic word for love,” said Petty Officer First Class Lori Ihli, a religious programs specialist with MAG-16. “Through this program, we will be able to provide basic school supplies to Iraqi children. We will use the friendship center as an assembly line for the project.”
With the help of MAG-16 and various religious congregations in the U.S., the chaplains have collected enough supplies for 1,000 backpacks, which will be packed full of school supplies, such as paper, pencils and safety scissors, by volunteers from various commands aboard Al Asad Air Base.
“Our goal is to create a program that is sustainable and can be carried on for a long time,” said Riley, an Orange Calif. native. “We’re starting small, with the friendship center, in order to see what kind of need there is for school supplies in the local area. From there, we may open this project up to more sponsors and expand our efforts.”
Once the supplies are packed and ready for distribution, the organizers will pass the backpacks on to the local schools and to the Iraqi Police, who will then deliver them to the children.
“The idea is to help the people of Iraq strengthen their faith in their schools and their police,” Riley added. “The project is about empowering the children and the community as a whole.”
The initiative is also a chance for those Marines who may spend their deployment working on base, to make a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people, Riley said.
“The whole experience of being involved with the opening of the friendship center has been motivating and inspirational for me,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Wynn, a HUB volunteer and supply clerk from MALS-16. “It feels great to be a part of something that will benefit so many people and it’s nice to really get this project rolling.”
The HUB volunteers hope to have the first 1,000 backpacks ready for distribution by the end of this summer.