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.”