The Iraqi Student Project

As one looks at today’s world of international conflict and violence, it is important to consider what each of us can do to promote peace.

Perhaps the example of a local group will provide a bit of guidance. Those involved will remain anonymous, with two exceptions, because participants are far too numerous to name.

In 2007 two local women, Jane Pitz and Nancy Mascotte, traveled to Syria. In Damascus they met with a U.S. couple working with the college-age refugee community. These young people had fled Iraq with their families due to the war and their ideas of university education had to be abandoned.

A plan was put into place, and thus “The Iraqi Student Project” was born. The students were tutored, became fluent in English and passed the TOEFL test that affirms the student can perform at the college level in English. Student visas were obtained and tightly knit Iraqi families said “Good-bye” to sons and daughters they were not likely to see for at least four years.

The first year fourteen students came to the U.S. Half were men, half were women, half were Christian and half were Muslim. Groups formed to welcome and support the students across the U.S. Many of the schools welcoming the students were private colleges and universities, which provided tuition waivers. It was anticipated that it would take approximately $10,000 per student each year to meet their needs, including health insurance.

Students lived on campus, others with families, and a few with religious communities. South Bend welcomed three students and the support group went to work, spreading the word to family and friends. Fund raising was a challenge met through donations and programs in which the students participated. Individual donations ranged from $10 to a one-time donation of $5,000. The students worked part-time jobs on campus as permitted by their visas.

In addition to monetary support, a generous social network evolved. One family had the students to dinner every Sunday, others held potlucks to celebrate special events or bring folks together. One woman provided rides to music classes and a dentist offered services to students who had not been able to see a dentist for several years.

At Christmas the first year, all fourteen students reunited in South Bend and one neighborhood had a progressive dinner. Families got to know Iraqi students and students became part of U.S. families.

Above is a mere outline of “The Iraqi Student Project”. Today the three South Bend students are college graduates, all gainfully employed. Other students are still studying through the program in other cities.

It is fair to say that everyone, students and all, who participated in this program, developed a better and truer understanding of another culture, made new friends and was enriched by this experience.

Perhaps this kind of grass roots support of education is a significant answer to “What can I do” to create peace in this world.

Visit the website for more information: http://iraqistudentproject.org

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