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U.S. Embassy’s World Heart Day Celebration Supports the Health of Iraqi Youth

On Sunday, September 25, 41 Iraqi high school students and their teachers took part in a World Heart Day Celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, focused on how the human heart works and what constitutes a healthy diet.  The 23 girls and 18 boys participated in games and activities designed to introduce them to ways of increasing their health and decrease their risk of heart disease and stroke.  U.S. Marines led the students in a heart racing exercise, a nurse showed the group how to measure their blood pressure and heart rate, and all students reflected on how improving their diet or getting more exercise might improve their health.

The students are also participants in the U.S. Embassy’s English Access Microscholarship Program.  The program enables disadvantaged students throughout Iraq to study English at no cost.  The Embassy provides the scholarship funding to 20 non-governmental organizations that then organize English classes for students in eleven provinces.  About 1000 economically disadvantaged young Iraqis between the ages of 14 and 18 are currently studying English as part of the Access program, with each student receiving at least 360 hours of instruction. 

World Heart Day, observed around the world on September 29, was created to inform people that heart disease and stroke are the world’s leading cause of death, claiming 17.2 million lives each year.  At least 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided if the main risk factors, such as tobacco, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity, are controlled.

As the day’s events were drawing to a close, the participants reflected on what they had learned.  Nearly all the students agreed that doing exercises was the most fun.  “I learned some things that can help my family live longer lives,” said one of the girls.  One boy summed up the experience by saying, “This has not only been fun.  Spending a day with Americans was also a great chance to improve my English.”

As a result of Sunday’s activity, these young Iraqis are better prepared to make good decisions about their lifestyle, live healthier lives, and share with their families, friends, and schoolmates the new knowledge they gained.  And they advanced their English skills, which can give them better access to jobs and better enable them to contribute to a prosperous and stable future for their country.  The Embassy supports all these goals as well through its partnership with Iraq in the Strategic Framework Agreement.