CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Iraq -- Marines with 1st Marine Division are helping to rebuild Iraq one stitch at a time.
With assistance from the Los Angeles-based charity Spirit of America, the division recently donated nearly $27,000 worth of equipment to the Ar Ramadi Sewing Center.
According to Lt. Col. John Lutkenhouse, 1st Marine Division plans officer for economic development, this is the first wave of sewing machine donations throughout the Al Anbar Province.
"The commander of the division understood that sewing machines would be a great way to improve Iraq's economy," Lutkenhouse explained. "The country's women will especially benefit because this will give them the opportunity to earn money and gain social empowerment."
According to Abdul Hameed Ibraheem, women were treated poorly during Saddam Hussein's regime. They were discouraged from attending school and finding employment.
Ibraheem, the Al Anbar Province director of economic programs, said all that has begun to change.
After the fall of the dictator, Ibraheem and other members of Iraq's newly formed government began working on plans for centers that would benefit the country's female population.
"The women will be able to make clothes for their families or to sell their products to make money for themselves and their families," Ibraheem said.
He said women who were fortunate to have jobs during Hussein's rule were paid less than $5 per month.
"Now the wages will be very good compared to before," he added. "The women will be able to afford food and transportation with the money they earn working at the centers."
Currently, there are two sewing centers in the province. One is located in Habbaniyah, and the other is Ar Ramadi. Both were renovated with funds donated by 1st Marine Division.
"We hope to work with the Marines in the future to get more of the centers open," Ibraheem said. "We're looking to eventually have eight in the province."
Besides sewing, the women working at the centers will also be taught several other valuable skills.
Computer, English, art and teaching classes will be available. The follow on classes will be funded by profits generated from sewing.
"We want to give the women of Iraq a place to work away from home," he explained. "And we want the women to have a chance to express themselves and have a place in society."
He expressed his gratitude to the Marines and Spirit of America for their help getting the centers up and running.
"I want to thank all of the men and women of America for making all this possible," he said. "It really is like a dream of ours is becoming a reality."
Lutkenhouse said the United States is willing to do whatever it takes to secure the country's future.
"We are here to help rebuild Iraq as a nation," Lutkenhouse said. "We'll use any method that will help us help the Iraqi people."