The students were in the United States on an Iraqi Young Leader Exchange Program, part of the public diplomacy program of the U.S. State Department, which contracted with Colorado State University’s international office to organize their Colorado program. The students were chosen through rigorous competition and spent two months in the U.S. learning about American life and institutions and meeting Americans in all walks of life. One of the themes of their program was volunteerism in service to the environment, which was the focus of their two days with PWV.
The students had introductory sessions with U.S. Forest Service officials in Fort Collins, which included learning about the new National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance, then travelled two hours up Poudre Canyon to CSU’s Pingree Park Campus. They spent the afternoon working on how to apply some of the ideas they learned in the U.S. to environmental problems in Iraq, and had an historical tour of the campus.
The following day, they split into three groups and, following a safety briefing that included how to use trail tools, went on patrol with Poudre Wilderness Volunteers on three trails in the Pingree area. As they hiked the trails, they had many discussions about the history and management of public lands in the U.S., the roles and importance of volunteerism and volunteers, forest ecology, local wildlife and plants, Leave No Trace principles and the Authority of the Resource Technique in talking to forest visitors. They learned about PWV’s trail patrol activities including contacting, educating, and assisting the public, collecting information for the USFS, trail maintenance tasks and methods, and the ecological impacts and control/eradication of noxious weeds. One group helped pull Musk thistle and all groups had great fun tearing up large, trash-filled fire rings, restoring the sites to pristine conditions.
The students were knowledgeable, very engaged, and wonderfully enthusiastic in asking questions and participating in discussions throughout their patrols. They were a delight to interact with, and all of the PWVs who worked with them thoroughly enjoyed the experience! In their final sessions with us and at Colorado State University, they showed a real commitment to take what they learned here and apply it to their own communities in Iraq.
Said PWV’s Chuck Bell, who organized their PWV experience: “The abilities, dedication and enthusiasm of these young leaders gives one real hope for the future of Iraq despite its tragic recent past and current problems.”