June 29, 2008 —
Students of the Village of Hope help clean an irrigation canal near Hawr Rajab, June 26. The students learn construction skills and repair damaged buildings in the program and also help keep their community clean.
FOB KALSU, Iraq (July 2, 2008) – Students of the Village of Hope in Hawr Rajab began cleaning irrigation canals in the area June 26, in an effort to improve the flow of fresh water to nearby farms.
The Village of Hope is a program which teaches construction skills to former members of the Sons of Iraq. The new skills help them transition to other productive jobs in their community. Airmen of the 577th Expeditionary Redhorse Squadron teach classes of about 50 students at a time at a training facility at Patrol Base Stone in Hawr Rajab.
Village of Hope students were asked to assist the community with maintenance of irrigation canals. Keeping them clean and flowing is a necessary task, said Air Force Capt. Michael Askegren, officer-in-charge of the Village of Hope program.
“The benefit is for the agricultural community,” Askegren said. “This is a rural community that relies heavily on agriculture and farming industries. By cleaning out the canals, they are helping to make sure that the water flowing to the fields is going to be good.”
There are currently more than 200 students enrolled in Village of Hope. Students work at community projects similar to cleaning the canals while they wait for their turn in the class rotation. Employment opportunities outside of farming are scarce for young men in the area. The Village of Hope provides new job skills and an income for former members of the Sons of Iraq. Askegren estimated only about one third of former SoI would be able to get jobs in the Iraqi security forces.
“Not everyone employed by the SoI program is going to be able to continue on in the ISF, whether it’s the Iraqi army or police departments that are standing up. We’ve got to find other employment, other skills to get these guys employed and keep them employed - to give them trades that will carry them through the future,” Askegren said.
Askegren said that in addition to renovating homes in the area, the Village of Hope students will soon work on larger construction projects to benefit the community as a whole. The Village of Hope instructors work with the Hawr Rajab town council to determine which projects are needed most.
“We got the second task order awarded (June 26) for students to continue work downtown, and we’re already working on the next project, which will be the renovation of the Alma-an Boy’s School. We hope to have that (contract) awarded as soon as next week,” said Askegren.
“We’re definitely moving into the full swing, as far as getting construction going downtown,” he added.
Askegren said that while the Village of Hope is currenty funded through the end of the fiscal year, he expects it to continue into 2009.