Coalition Provisional Authority
April 1, 2004
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Joe Frazier 914-360-5114.
Optimists Club Organizes Baghdad Chapter
Optimists International can now claim Baghdad, Iraq as the home of its most
recently organized chapter. Founded in 1919 with chapters in 28 countries,
Optimists is a service organization best known for “bringing out the best in
kids.” The new chapter held its organizational meeting at the former palace of
Saddam Hussein, now the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Headquarters in
Baghdad. A group of 28 civilian CPA staff and Iraqi nationals attended.
The meeting began with folk music entertainment from Pearse Marshner, who has
been in Iraq for a year supporting the Coalition effort. Ben Krause then
described plans to promote an essay contest for local high school seniors in the
Baghdad metropolitan area. The theme of this year’s essay contest will be “What
a Free Iraq Means to Me.” Any Iraqi high school student will be eligible to
participate. The date for the contest has not been finalized.
“We are very excited about working with all the schools here in Baghdad, and to
see how the students express themselves for the essay contest,” Kraus said. “We
expect dozens of entries from each school, and those respective schools will
determine the winning essay for that school.”
All those winning essays will then be submitted to a group of international
judges, who would then choose the overall 2004 winner.
Krause added: “There is great incentive for students to work hard on their
essay, which will be judged in English and in Arabic. The plan is to award a
$500 or $1000 educational scholarship to the overall winner. Or, it may be a
travel voucher to visit the United States in the future.”
The Optimist Club is but one of several civic organizations sprouting up
throughout Baghdad. Several Iraqis who attended today’s meeting showed great
interest in expanding the new Optimist chapter into downtown Baghdad where such
civic institutions are greatly needed.
The program continued with special guest Dr. John M. Russell, a professor of Art
and Archaeology at Boston College, author of two books on Iraqi archaeology, and
who wrote his doctoral thesis and conducted archaeological excavation work in
Iraq several years ago. He narrated a very informative power-point presentation
about the current conditions of Iraq’s Baghdad Museums and National Library, as
well as the ongoing rehabilitation of Iraqi artifacts and art treasures that
were recently looted and/or sustained environmental damage over the years due to
neglect or lack of resources.
Ross lamented that the Baghdad Museum and National Library had been
ill-maintained for many years, beginning long before and after the Gulf War and
Operation Iraqi Freedom. Said Ross: “Roofs were leaking, allowing high levels of
moisture and humidity into the museum space. The museums have not had proper air
conditioning or been properly maintained. We found antiquated air-conditioning
systems that were completely broken, providing none of the environmental
protection required by ancient artifacts.”
During the program, it was revealed by Dr. Ross that one particularly
unfortunate case of looter vandalism resulted in serious damage to the “Warka”
vase, circa 3000 B.C. Ross considers the Warka vase to be the most valuable
Iraqi artifact in the world. Although it was severely damaged, the pieces are
all intact. It will take months to reconstruct and repair.
Dr. Ross informed the group that a very positive update was currently
transpiring: Nineteen Iraqi museum specialists had recently been flown to
Washington, D.C. to participate in a seven week-long course in modern museum
operations. In addition, Ross hopes that the Baghdad museum will reopen in July
and have some exhibitions ready to show school children in the Fall, but that
decision will be made by Iraqi curators.
Several of the Iraqi cultural leaders in attendance expressed optimism that they
will be able to form a new
chapter in the downtown Baghdad later in the year.
Optimist Clubs (www.optimist.org) have been “Bringing out the best in kids”
since 1919. It is a community service based organization committed to creating a
more optimistic future for young people through innovative programs. Optimist
International boasts 114,000 individual members who belong to 3,500 autonomous
clubs. Optimists conduct 65,000 service projects each year, serving six million
young people. Optimists also spend $78 million on their communities annually.
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