School supplies: an unlikely means of bringing communities together
AMMAN, Jordan – When you think “back to school,” a lot of things may come to mind, like shopping for new clothes, packing school lunches and juggling extracurricular activities.
However, getting an opportunity for community relationship-building is likely not one of them.
But that was exactly the focus for a group of U.S. service members and soldiers of the Jordan Armed Forces – Arab Army when they decided to get together for a community-service project with a school supplies theme near a military training center outside of Amman, Jordan, Aug. 18.
It all started when Brig. Gen. John Rueger, deputy commanding general of the 35th Infantry Division, and Brig. Gen. Ahmad Kaiber, commanding officer and general director of King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre, decided they wanted to get the troops involved in giving back to a local Jordanian community.
The community that resides just outside of the special operations training center, an international facility that provides up-to-date training in counter-terrorism, special operations and irregular warfare tactics, techniques and procedures, seemed like a good place to start.
“We can be very noisy neighbors,” said Ayman Masri, law enforcement training manager at KASOTC. “KASOTC is a training facility and live fire is being used. So the local community is the recipient of all that noise. We wanted to show our appreciation to them for all their patience.”
“We knew we wanted to partner with a community outside of a Jordanian military facility” agreed Maj. Dena Goble, Civil Liaison Detachment Team 59, one of the primary coordinators of the event. “Military communities often have to tolerate annoyances like increased noise from aircraft or ranges as soldiers train. Additionally, the local communities are the eyes and ears of the training center and can provide security feedback.
Because they live there, they know when there is someone there who doesn’t belong, and they will report that information.”
And so the militaries put their live-fire training on hold to focus on a new target: providing school supplies to the children of the local community that lives outside KASOTC’s gates.
“We have a large community that lives on the eastern side of KASOTC, called the Khalileh Tribe, who have been very supportive of KASOTC since its creation,” said Masri “The tribe is very well-known in the area. We agreed that the kids would be a good beneficiary of such a project.”
To get the project off the ground, the event coordinators reached out to Spirit of America, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the safety and success of Americans serving abroad and the local people and partners they seek to assist, to help fund donations of school supplies like notebooks, pencils, rulers and backpacks for 200 children.
“The project hit on two key factors,” said Goble. “One is the relationship building and strengthening the partnership between the U.S. and Jordanian militaries.”
Masri agreed that cooperation between the two militaries was an important initiative.
“It is His Majesty’s vision to build relationships with allied forces,” said Masri. “The U.S. forces in Jordan are here to support Jordan. Doing things like this helps us show that U.S. forces here are part of a coalition that works very closely with Jordan Armed Forces.”
After the school supplies were delivered to KASOTC, U.S. and JAF service members had a chance to interact as they spent an evening together stuffing the backpacks with supplies in preparation for handing them out to the children.
The second goal of the project was about strengthening relationships within the community.
“Doing things like this shows that we all have the same concerns for the welfare of children,” said Goble.
That mutual concern for the welfare of children also helps explain why ‘back to school’ was selected as the theme of the project.
“There are great benefits to helping provide school supplies,” said Goble. “It is critical that kids have the opportunity to go to school anywhere in the world. School supplies alone may not give that to them, but any incentive helps. In this situation we have vulnerable children who are at risk for becoming part of a lost generation when it comes to education based on the population growth and the overwhelmed school system.
Goble emphasized that in order to mitigate those risks, facilitating access to education is essential.
“It is about developing critical thinking skills necessary to question right from wrong and giving them options and opportunities to thrive,” said Goble. “This all begins with having the basic necessities to participate in the educational experience.”
The day of the event, representatives from both the U.S. and the JAF turned out to meet with the community and deliver the school supplies to the neighboring community.
“I think despite any cultural differences, everyone loves their kids,” said 2nd Lt. Ty Roberts, 35th Inf. Div., who participated in the distribution of school supplies. “So having the opportunity to hand those school supplies out allows us to show the parents that we care about their kids too.
“It was hugely special just to see their faces light up when you handed them something,” said Roberts. “It was great to be able to do something nice that they appreciated and to have an opportunity to engage in dialogue with that community, it was great to interact with children. I think they enjoyed it, but I really enjoyed it too. The look on their faces was thank you enough.”
More photos of the event can be found on the 35th Infantry Division's Flickr page.