On June 20, 2016, the Arbat Refugee Camp near Sulaimani in Kurdistan Region of Iraq came alive with lights, sounds and music as refugees took part in an entertaining talent show organized by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Iraq. The “Refugees Got Talent” contest was hosted to mark the World Refugee Day and showcased diverse talents and skills of young refugees in Sulaimani. An energetic and dedicated team of more than 20 students of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) volunteered with UNHCR to help organize the event. “I think it’s an amazing event,” said AUIS student Shanyan Hassan, volunteering as organizer on the day of the event. “Nothing can make you feel better about yourself than making children happy. And here in this camp, we encourage the children to showcase their talent. It reminds them that they have talents just like other people all over the world.” The AUIS students responded to volunteer request by UNHCR, facilitated by the Student Services Office. During the month before the talent show, the students attended numerous UNHCR meetings and helped out with logistics and organization of the rehearsals and the final show. Zhino Luqman, another AUIS student thought that working with others at the camp was an excellent learning opportunity for teamwork. “This is the first time that I have taken part in such an event. It’s a really good opportunity for the refugees, and it has brought so much happiness to the participants,” he said. Majid Ali Esmail, refugee and trainer of a dancing troupe at the talent show from Qamishli, echoed Luqman’s thoughts, “Despite all the difficulties we face in the camp, we still have hope in the future. That’s why I have put so much time and energy into training this young group from the camp.” Fatima Saed, a member of the same dance troupe, said, “Our goal is to make the camp people happy, remind them of our Syrian traditions that will stay with us forever no matter where we are.” Marco Rotunno, one of the main organizers of the event from UNHCR, appreciated the hard work put in by the AUIS volunteers’ team. “June 20 is the national refugees’ day. We are here to celebrate with them their day,” he said, talking to AUIS communications volunteer, Wud Salam, who accompanied the event volunteers on the final show. “AUIS students helped us a lot in organizing this event. They were great. They were with us from the beginning until this day. Each one had a different role and they helped us in different levels. They helped us in organizing the event, registration, administration process, editing, count control, and many other jobs,” he said. Well done to all the students who contributed to the talent show in keeping with the strong AUIS tradition of community engagement and volunteering initiatives. Interviews and photographs by Wud Salam, AUIS communications student volunteer.
On July 30th, AUIS students from various cities in Iraq and Kurdistan region joined a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., via video to discuss the impact of the ISIS threat to Iraq. The event was co-hosted by Stimson Center and the Institute of Regional and International Studies at AUIS. Watch discussion here.
This story has been published with contribution by AUIS student Biryar Bahhaalddin. Photos by AUIS student Rozhin Salah. April 5, 2015: A group of AUIS students chose to spend their spring break volunteering and spending time with the children living in a refugee camp in Duhok. The “Alternative Spring Break” started as a trend in the USA, where instead of vacationing, students volunteer their time for community service during their spring break. This year, AUIS students decided to do the same, supported by teachers and Dean of Students, Geoffrey Gresk. The current crisis in Iraq and Syria has led to a massive influx of refugees and internally displaced people to Kurdistan, especially to Duhok, which hosts a large refugee community. AUIS students volunteered to spend their Nawroz break with the children in one of the refugee camps there. “We are very proud of the 23 students who participated in the service trip to Duhok. AUIS students have been donating their time and talents to the larger community for years, but this is the first time that so many students have had a focused service project during Nawroz break.” said Gresk. The team traveled from Sulamani to Duhok on March 22nd and returned on the 26th. The AUIS students and several faculty and staff members spent time in an IDP camp located in Sumel, west of Duhok. “We painted faces, led songs, and encouraged the children to express themselves in art classes. Several of our AUIS students are planning an exhibition of some of these drawings.” explained Gresk. “We believed that a week’s break is not a short time to try and bring some change to the society. We cannot put an end to the conditions inside the camps or fulfill their yearnings for their hometown Shingal. But, we were successful in bringing happiness and smiles to the children’s faces and we were able to build a strong connection with them,” said student volunteer, Biryar Bahhaalddin. “The children spent these three days with music, dancing, and painting away from thoughts of conflict and war. On the last day we went to the Bazar of Duhok, and we bought school materials for the children. We wanted to motivate them to continue their education because we believe that they will build the future of this country,” continued Bahhaalddin. “ The Alternative Spring Break was a great chance for us to experience a different city and culture, but also to build new friendships. Most of the group members did not know each other at the beginning, but during this week we became very close friends.” The “ASB Family" - as the volunteer team members called themselves - raised almost US$2,000 for the trip. About $600 of this went to pay for the transport while the remainder was used to buy school supplies for the children in the camps: US$1,000 for notebooks, $100 for pens, etc. Volunteers covered their own costs. “We tried to have this as a student-run event. Team members worked on fundraising, planned the program and arranged the travel and housing details. I would especially like to thank my co-leader, Mr. Hazhy Rozh, for all the work he did. The trip would not have happened, much less have been the success that it was, without his efforts,” said Gresk. “I would also like to thank Dr. Esther Mulnix, Dr. Aso Salih, Ms. Rachel Laribee, and all the other staff members who contributed to this success.”
Amanj, with the help of her colleagues, prepared a variety of traditional and modern homemade dishes, from savories - dolma, bryani and pasta - to deserts - cupcakes, tarts, marble cake and tiramisu. The group was divided into two teams, one team for savories, the other for deserts. Students and faculty members each donated a minimum of five dollars to the bake sale, and were served based on the amount of their donation. The group raised $1,634.67 from the sale, which will be donated to the Kurdistan Save the Children organization, which is working with the IDPs and refugees. One of the student participants, Nawa Shorish, praised the effort of her colleagues, “This is how we celebrate International Peace Day at AUIS. I am so proud of everyone here.” Amanj, who has volunteered for many non-profit organizations and hospitals, including Kurdistan Save the Children and the Hiwa Cancer Hospital said, “I like to organize charity events, but at the same time I like them to be fun and interactive.” Amanj is currently in her first semester of business administration at AUIS. She also took the opportunity to initiate a photo campaign for the abducted Yezidi girls. Students at the bake sale were encouraged to take photos with a placard saying, “Help bring back our Yezidi girls.” She and her colleagues will circulate the campaign on social media to raise more awareness, followed by organizing events to support the campaign. Check out the photos on Facebook.
The idea was initiated by Abdullah Mohammed Wajeeh and Nawfal Sattar Mohammed, two Academic Preparatory Program (APP) students in level 2, who were quickly joined by Hayas Ismail in level 3 and later by Zhiwar Jawhar Rasul in the Undergraduate program. They were supported by APP Instructor, Chris Guajardo, in organizing and setting up the activities. Both Abdullah and Nawfal had participated in the service learning project in the Fall, and wanted to continue and do something similar to give back to the community this semester. “I think that the event that these students created will really change the way in which fundraising is done here at AUIS,” said Guajardo, “They have set a new bar and provided fresh ideas for helping those who are most in need.” In three days, the students managed to raise $2,694.00 for the refugee camps. Over the course of three days, the students organized several interesting activities and events to raise the funds. Creative art pieces, photographs and handicrafts made by AUIS students were put on sale. A group of young and talented artists, The Iraqi Touch, participated by donating their art pieces for auction at the fundraiser. There were other fun activities like music, a cook-off, and hand painting. One of the highlights of the event was a guest lecture from renowned Kurdish artist, Ismail Khayat, who also donated prints of his artwork for the fundraiser. “I am extremely proud and amazed by what these students were able to accomplish. They put in weeks of planning, organizing, and networking, and it was all done under their already very busy schedules and workloads in APP and Undergraduate programs. These students have shown once again how creative, dedicated, and capable they truly are,” added Guajardo. Following the success of the fundraiser, the students are already thinking about making this an annual event at the University. The organizers would like to thank the AUIS community for their continued support, and in particular, the following people who helped and contributed to the event. Mr. Ismail Khayat, who contributed his artwork, time, and all printing of the photographs that were sold during the three days of the event for free as a donation. Masti Khalil and Saya Ahmad, organizers of the cook-off. Sanya Rzgar for her contributing art and craft work. The Iraqi Touch group for donating their artwork. All the photographers who contributed their work: Korak Agha, Rawand Taha, Hogr Hadi, Nvar Kawan, Hayas Ismail, Zhiwar Jawhar Rasul, Danyar Jalal, Rawand Ali, and all who volunteered their time. Mr. Oliver Keels, director of Student Services, and the Communications Office for their support. See more photos of the event on our facebook page.