By Army Sgt. Whitney Houston
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 13, 2008 - Youths from Taji teamed up Aug. 11 as part of a summer youth hire program to clean up the Taji Market, northwest of Baghdad. The provincial reconstruction team embedded in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team started the program to help adolescents appreciate their community and engage them in a good cause rather than leave them to outside influences, officials said.
The summer youth program began Aug. 1 and employs male youths for two months during their summer holiday from school, Army Capt. Timothy Cho, a member of the embedded PRT, said.
"This program was implemented as a means to keep these kids busy and out of trouble, as well as [to] give them a sense of citizenship and teach them about the importance of why they need to keep their environment clean," Cho said.
The children work from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. sweeping roads, gathering garbage, participating in team-building workshops, planting trees, painting and other renovation projects. They are paid $300 monthly, which helps families in financial need.
"The kids normally wouldn't do anything over the summer," said Rudy Lirato, a PRT cultural advisor. "This program keeps them busy and makes them some money."
Parents also seem excited for their children to be involved in these community-oriented tasks.
"I think the parents love it because all the kids are actually out doing something together, working toward community goals, and leaving their differences aside forming a good community," Cho said.
Cho said the program is not exclusive to Taji. It extends to Tarmiyah, northwest of Baghdad, and Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad. The program targets youths ages 14-19.
"I would like to see this as a success story and implemented throughout Iraq in future years to come," Cho said.
(Army Sgt. Whitney Houston serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.)