RAMADI, Iraq --
RAMADI, Iraq (July 26, 2008) – Nearly 3,000 school-aged children from various neighborhoods in Ramadi joined recently for the city’s inaugural Ramadi Youth Conference; one more sign the region is on the right road to recovery after years of intense violence.
The city’s officials, in conjunction with the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team-Ramadi and 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, hosted the conference at the South Ramadi Indoor Olympic Gym July 21-24 to help improve the children’s future.
“The four-day conference was intended to boost the capabilities of the youth,” said Air Force Col. Mary Ann P. Ante-Amburgey, the embedded provincial recovery team social affairs leader for Ramadi. “The event was also designed to encourage them to demonstrate their national pride and to stay in school because the future of Iraq is in their hands.”
The coordinators of the conference mixed fun with knowledge by holding classes about leadership; hosting several guest speakers including the city’s mayor, a health department representative, the director general (DG) of education and the DG of youth and sports; and holding sports tournaments and cultural contests.
“Education and sports go hand-in-hand in a kids’ learning process,” Ante-Amburgey said. “It’s important for the kids to know that there are youth activities available to them during the summer months when schools are not in session.”
The children are a “metaphor for the city’s revival,” Ante-Amburgey said. The children, just like the city, are still growing and are still susceptible to radical Islamic groups trying to prevent advancement in the region.
“The youth are the future of Iraq,” Ante-Amburgey said. “The skills learned while they are still young will affect the future of Iraq in a very competitive world.”
The city’s youth, especially those between 14 and 18, had been a recruiting base for the insurgency, she said. The conference showed the children there are other options for their energies and talents.
“It proved to them that their future is brighter now than what it was during those violent years,” said Ante-Amburgey. “I’ve met many Iraqis who really wanted to make a difference in their community and wish for their kids’ lives to be better than theirs.”
Children at the conference said the event was exciting and are looking forward to the next conference.
“I had a real good time,” said Mahmod Gumal, a 14-year-old boy that can speak and understand English. “I learned a lot while also being able to spend time with my friends and watch a few soccer games. I hope they will do another conference again soon.”
The ability to hold the conference demonstrated the improved security in the city, which served as an insurgent strong-hold in recent years.
The Ramadi South Precinct police took the lead on providing security for the event and Marines with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, served in an advisory role for the policemen.
“The fact that the city was able to hold this conference, along with several other recent big events, shows that the city is safe enough for public gatherings,” said Cpl. John Allen, a mortarman with 81mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines “It also shows that the Iraqi Police are competent enough to provide security for the city,”
Leaders in the region, making the most of peace and tranquility, are planning several more conferences in the upcoming weeks and months. The city has scheduled a medical conference, leadership summit, and several soccer tournaments in the near future.