alternative spring break | The American University of Iraq Sulaimani

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alternative spring break

Students Spend Alternative Spring Break at Rwanduz Refugee Camp

Earlier in March this year, a group of undergraduate and Academic Preparatory Program (APP) students, accompanied by three APP instructors, spent their Nawroz break with children at a refugee camp in Rwanduz in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. This is the third consecutive year AUIS students have organized an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) to dedicate their time for community service. AUIS graduate Mohammed Hersh generously donated a large sum for the trip.   The students spent an entire day with the kids doing various interactive and fun activities, including face painting, dancing, drawing, and other games. “My favorite part of the trip was getting to see AUIS students interacting with the refugee children. I loved getting to see a different side of everyone. I didn't know Ahmed was an origami and paper airplane whiz. I had no idea Hazher loved puzzles. Every child, even the super shy ones, would talk to Juman. I got to see Ali ride a bouncy horse! There were so many small moments when I was reminded how amazing everyone is. It made me appreciate AUIS and its students even more,” said Ms. Katy McGarr, one of the APP instructors accompanying us on the trip. “This was my second time participating in ASB, it was well organized and I really enjoyed it. The best part of the trip was the team work. We spent the whole day doing activities for the kids and making them happy. I ended up painting bunnies, Batman and Spiderman on their bright, beautiful faces,” said student Zryan Ibrahim. APP Instructor Valerie Wayson echoed Zryan's thoughts: “The fact that we could make a change, a change that made those children happy, and bring joy was everything to us. Happiness is free, but so is sadness and pain. For us to take away some of their sadness is such a beautiful gift that was given from all our hearts," she said about her experience at the camp.  The students were divided into several different groups to arrange the event. They worked on fundraising, planning the program, transportation, buying supplies, and housing. Participants raised over one million Iraqi dinars from a cook-off hosted at AUIS prior to the event. “I was stunned by the generosity of the AUIS community. I know that AUIS students and staff are caring and compassionate; I see that every day. However, I never in my wildest dreams expected to raise so much money at our cook-off. I was blown away. Students who weren't even going on the trip brought food, worked at the table, and helped clean up. It was incredibly inspiring to see how everyone played a part in the success of our trip,” said Ms. McGarr. >> View a photo story of Alternative Spring Break on our Facebook Page.  There were also several anonymous donors, and the largest donation of USD 1,500 was made by AUIS graduate Mohammed Hersh Rashid. His contribution was used to buy supplies such as footballs, notebooks, pencil sharpeners, erasers, coloring books, play dough, and other toys for the children in the camps. The money from the cook-off was spent for purchasing a variety of English and Arabic books. The AUIS community donated books for pre-schoolers, school children, and teenagers, and the students purchased several picture dictionaries, teaching resources, and flashcards. The rest of the funds were used to purchase face paint, coloring books, a tug-of-war rope, and snacks. On April 6th, participants of the 2017 Spring Break met with President Ferguson and Mr. Mohammed Hersh. "As many know our country has gone through a lot because of the war and ISIS in the past two to three years. I personally think the University and the students have done a great job in helping those in need through these charities. As an AUIS alumnus, I thought it is was the least I could do to give back to the University and our community." - Mohammed Hersh Rashid "This was a great event, because it recognized two important themes of AUIS: Alumni supporting the university and the university supporting the community. Mr. Mohammed is one of hundreds of AUIS graduates who are staying connected to the university as they move forward with their lives and careers. As for the service: 2017 was the third year that AUIS students have donated their time and talents to others during the Nawroz Break. This trip was led by Ms. Katy McGarr, and we want to thank her," said Dean Geoffrey Gresk, at the meeting. Ms. McGarr apprecited the genrous contribution by Mr. Hersh to the trip: "As one of the organizers of this years’ service trip, I was blown away by Mr. Hersh's donation. It is a testament to the generosity of the AUIS community and how that generosity and commitment to service extends beyond graduation. It was an honor for the ASB 2017 team to be able to deliver Mr. Hersh's donation to the camps. I know that the many supplies he provided will have a lasting impact on the education and emotional health of the refugees we visited. In addition, I know that his example will inspire current AUIS students and future alumni to follow in his footsteps."  There are three refugee camps in Rwanduz, including Rwanduz, Kawlokan and Akoyan camps, built by the World Orphans organization. Most families are Yazidis/Ezidis who took refuge in these camps after fleeing from Shingal, and others include the Shabak who came from Mosul. There are about 100 families and 200 kids in the camps. The organization has built a school in Soran, and they also provided buses for them.  If you want to be part of the Service Learning Program, please contact Ms. Farah Mousa at [email protected]  Article and photos contributed by Communications student volunteer, Halbast Abdullah. 

Alternative Spring Break 2016

  Story and photos contributed by student volunteer Halbast Abdullah.  The Alternative Spring Break (ASB), which was first initiated in America, is a program in which students dedicate their time for community service, and AUIS has organized this activity for two years now.  “I am very proud of how the group members contributed to the project, both before and during. Masti Khalil, an AUIS student, was a very good co-leader. This is the second year we have done this, so it is becoming a tradition, and it is a good one,” said Mr. Gresk. There are many refugees in Kurdistan, especially in Dohuk, due to ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq. The refugees are going through a really hard time and most have lost everything, including family members. Our aim was to spend time with the children in the refugee camps and to divert their thoughts away from destruction even if it was just for a while. “It's hard to imagine all the pain and loss these refugees feel every day, but being on the ASB trip really opened my eyes to their struggles. Just seeing the smiles on every child's face while we were there with them made me want to do more to help in any way I can,” said ASB team member Avan Mohammad. “I am the happiest for making all those people happy, especially as they are my people,”said Shakir Salam, an Ezidi student at AUIS.        The students were divided into different groups to arrange the event. They worked on fundraising and planning the program, such as, transportation, buying materials, and housing. The group raised US $1,400 through arranging activities like a cook-off and a lemonade stand. Two AUIS professors also contributed to raising the sum. The funds were used to buy school supplies, notebooks, pens, erasers, color pencils, face-paints and kites for the CSM school in Khanke camp. They also bought office supplies for the teachers in the school and administrators of the camp, such as staplers, binders, etc. Also, less than $200 was spent for the cost of the trip for those students who couldn't pay all the money by themselves.        The team left for Dohuk on March 22nd and returned to Sulaimani on the 25th. They spent the two days on various interactive and fun activities with the children in the camps, including face painting, games, singing and drawing.        The group also had a meeting with some female Ezidi photojournalists who are being supported by Z-Agency, UNICEF, RDO and Italian government. Most of them are studying in high school and one is studying psychology in the University of Smel. They have already had two photography exhibitions at the Galawezh Festival and at AUIS during the conference on the future of the Ezidi community earlier this year.  This trip has changed our views almost entirely. We all have learned that together we can do anything. Certainly, I think we did our best in making the children happy and we succeeded. The children opened up to us really quickly, and when we interacted with them they quickly became our friends. Our mission was to spread happiness, some sort of help that can leave its trace forever in their hearts.

AUIS Students Visit Refugee Camp for Alternative Spring Break

  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.”
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