Wow, talk about ironic and macabre timing…:
April 1, 2004
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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”:http://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.
Now, I thought this might have been a spoof considering the date, so I wrote the CPA contact back, asking, in effect, “You gotta be joking.”
I assure you that Optimists International is alive and well and has indeed established a beachhead in Baghdad, Iraq. I attended the meeting myself, and there are about 25 of us who intend to work hand in hand with the Iraqis to continue the great Optimist tradition of helping young people.
Thank you for your interest.
– Mike Hardiman, Press Officer, Baghdad Central
Coalition Provisional Authority
The email headers all match previous releases I’ve received from the CPA, so I’m forced to conclude this is genuine. I just have to shake my head at the tin ear of the CPA on putting this out the day after “Fallujah”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000724.php.