Not too many people have been able to travel Iraq in the last few years, but James Harter, assistant vice president for international education, felt it was his duty to go.
“I felt that it was responsibility, a duty, for those of us who were invited to be there and to be a part of this important education initiative,” Harter said.
Emporia State was one of 22 universities in the U.S. to represent America at Iraq’s first Educational Initiative from Jan. 15-26 in Baghdad and Suleimaniya, Iraq.
“We need to do whatever is necessary to help them achieve their goals,” Harter said. “Their goals are to have an infrastructure once again in the educational system of Iraq and to build the education back to where it was.”
There were 225 other universities represented from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France and Germany.
“The system of higher education in Iraq was regarded as one of the finest in the Arab and (Muslim) worlds,” stated a letter from the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki to Harter. “Iraq needs a strategic program that will transform its education system in order to make up the time lost in developing its human resources.”
The education initiative was created to rebuild the educational system of Iraq after many conflicts, including wars and sanctions, tore it down.
“There is undeniably great urgency to rebuild our education system,” said Barham Salih, Iraqi deputy prime minister in a letter to Harter. “Realizing that education is intimately linked to development, the Government of Iraq is launching several initiatives in this direction.”
Representatives were chosen by Al-Maliki, Salih and the Executive Director for the Iraq Education Initiative Zuhair Humadi. Harter has been personal friends with Humadi for over 25 years and said that is why he was invited to this event.
While in Iraq, Harter got the chance to meet with the Al-Maliki along with the U.S. Prime Minister to Iraq.
Although Baghdad is a war torn area, Harter felt completely safe with the amount of security that the group had. There were no incidents, he said.
“In Baghdad, you really cannot walk around,” Harter said. “You have the green zone and that’s basically where you have to stay. Even there you have to be escorted by security.”
Harter said that the foreign guests in the country could not forget that it was a warzone.
“(There was) some combat that was going on close to us in the hotel in Baghdad,”
Harter said. “You could hear it. From the upper floors, you could see in the distance where there was fighting taking place.”
However, Harter claimed that the northeastern city of Suleimaniya was much safer and more controlled than Baghdad.
“There are security guards but you can, and we did, walk from the hotel to a convenience store or to a restaurant,” Harter said. “Most of the time, just for our protection, they would provide security guards to go with us but we felt safe to go on our own.”
The government of Iraq will be providing a preliminary group of 500 students with scholarships so that they can study abroad for the fall of 2009.
“The education initiative’s (purpose) was to offer students scholarships to study abroad, mainly in the United States and the United Kingdom,” Harter said.
According to Harter, the students that attended the educational fairs set up by the initiative were grateful.
“We saw the expressions in the people, the students that came to visit with us, their parents,” Harter said. “You could see the hope in their eyes that this was real. That this was going to be a part of their future.”
The students who were present also told Harter and the other representatives that they would not waste this opportunity.
“They kept telling us that if they were given this opportunity for an education, especially an education overseas, that they would come back and be a part of education in their country in the future,” he said. “It was almost as if they felt needed to tell us, ‘we’re going to come back and we’re going to help our country achieve what this is all about.’”
On his last day in Iraq, Harter was given a tour through the Iraqi villages and countryside. As a processional of about 20 cars, including armored and security vehicles passed, the local Iraqi people stopped and waved.
“Even masked (Iraqi) soldiers were giving us the thumbs up,” Harter said.
Al-Maliki thanked the university representatives for coming and thanked them for their courage.
“Of course, we told him that we were honored,” Harter said.
Ashley Peaches/The Bulletin