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Children's hands reach out to Iraqis.

Byline: Andrea Damewood The Register-Guard

Two young hands outstretched like wings hold a note, carefully copied in shaky Arabic: Amali an nakoon asdega - My hope is for us to be friends.

The card, created by a Eugene student, is one wish of friendship among a flock of messages that wait in the children's wing of the Eugene Public Library before a long flight to Iraq.

Students from Eastside Elementary, the Village School, Ridgeline Montessori and Far Horizons Montessori gathered to create the cards as part of "Hands Across the Sea," a mailing project organized by Eugene residents Jennifer McConochie and Sisy Anderson.

"For me, when I open my hands to you, it's a sign of friendship," McConochie said. "By showing compassion and interest in the culture, the kids have a chance to be tiny diplomats."

Inspired by a leadership class that required her to do something "good for the community," McConochie came upon the idea to have Eugene students send messages to Iraqi children.

She contacted Anderson, a local artist, and the two put together a presentation for schools that included a talk by Shaul Cohen, an associate professor of geography at the University of Oregon, who discussed the difficulties Iraqi children face during war.

`(Students) had a very clear picture that we're talking to people their age, who, because of political reasons, were in a very different situation," Village School seventh-grade teacher Andy Traisman said. "I think they really felt connected."

Village School students also study Mesopotamian history and current events, so the cards also provided a personalized touch to the curriculum, he said.

Anderson and McConochie created bilingual cutouts for younger students to use in their messages, while many of the middle-school-aged children tried their hand at Arabic calligraphy.

"I just thought it would show respect for the culture," McConochie said. "We wanted to say we are sincere. We really want to be friends."

Twelve-year-old Ian Means, a Village School seventh-grader, said he enjoyed the creative freedom the project offered. He made a replica of the Iraqi flag - including its Arabic script - and added cutout tracings of his own hands.

"It was kind of hard, because I was using markers," Means said. "But I like the art."

Anderson expects that more than 300 cards will be sent at the end of the month.

McConochie said the greatest difficulty was not bringing the project into the schools, but finding a way to get cards to children in a country with no mail service.

After several false leads, McConochie said a group that donates school supplies, People to People: Operation Iraqi Children, will have soldiers distribute the cards along with the care packages.

Word-of-mouth has teachers in Portland, Salem and Corvallis interested in the project, Anderson said. The team also hopes to expand the project to include other message-worthy destinations.

"We both wanted it to be a model that could be overlaid anywhere - Uganda, Hurricane Katrina - and for any purpose," she said.

Those interested in organizing a Hands Across the Sea project can visit www. php.

MESSAGES OF FRIENDSHIP Here's what some Eugene students had to say to children in Iraq: Dear friend, I wish that I could play with you and that you are safe. - Age 7, Eastside Elementary Dear student in Iraq, My name is Zoe and I am sooo sorry that you are in the middle of war. I hope my letter makes you feel better. I hope the war stops. - Age 11, Ridgeline Montessori I want to be your friend, Owen - Age 4, Far Horizons Montessori
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Title Annotation:Schools; Two Eugene women organize a card-making project that connects students with kids in the war-torn country
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 7, 2007
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