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Vocational center means job training in Hawr Rajab

By Spc. Justin Snyder , 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division

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Graduates from the Village of Hope training center at PB Stone in Hawr Rajab do a celebratory dance following a graduation ceremony, July 3. (Army photo by Spc. Justin Snyder)
Graduates from the Village of Hope training center at PB Stone in Hawr Rajab do a celebratory dance following a graduation ceremony, July 3. (Army photo by Spc. Justin Snyder)

CAMP STRIKER (July 7, 2008) — The second Village of Hope training center class graduated during a ceremony held at Patrol Base Stone in Hawr Rajab, July 3.

The graduating class of 58 Iraqi citizens spent 60 days training in electricity, carpentry and plumbing. Six of the students were returning trainees who took part in a newly created supervisors’ course.

The training program aims to teach local citizens of Hawr Rajab, about 10 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, a sustainable construction skill that will allow them to gain employment. Some of the graduates were former Sons of Iraq workers.

After attacks by al-Qaida left Hawr Rajab in ruins in November 2007, many houses were left inhabitable. Graduates of the first class began working on rebuilding those houses following their completion of the course in May, while the current graduates will soon begin work on a boys’ school in Hawr Rajab.

Air Force Capt. Michael Askegren, 557th Expeditionary Red Horse Squadron officer in charge of the Village of Hope, said rebuilding the town is one of the biggest goals of the course.

“We are teaching these guys important skills that will prove very useful upon leaving the course,” said Askegren, a native of Mandeville, La. “Not only are they gaining jobs but they are gaining pride in their community.”

There has been marked improvement in the students’ work since the beginning of the course, and the students have all been very enthusiastic and willing to learn, said Tech. Sgt Jose Castro, instructor of the electrician class.

Mahamood Adel, a graduate of the structure class, came to the class with a very limited knowledge of carpentry. He said he is very thankful to the Coalition forces for their hard work, and he wants to build on his newly gained knowledge.

“I’ve had a great experience with this course,” Adel said. “Me and my fellow students will carry that experience with us into town and use it to serve our community.”

The course is constantly evolving to further improve training for the incoming students. Different from the first course, a supervisors’ course has been added.

The students in this course – chosen by the instructors – are taught different leadership skills, enabling them to take on a foreman-like role at the work sites downtown.

Askegren said he believes this class is very important so the Iraqis can eventually take over the rebuilding effort completely in Hawr Rajab.

“By teaching these guys, we are essentially working ourselves out of a job,” said Askegren. “Eventually we are going to leave, so we are providing them the skills so they can take leadership and control to take this project to the next level.”

Following the ceremony, the students received a diploma and tool kit for their respective trade, signifying the completion of the course.