I am a genocide scholar at Stockton University in the United States who traveled with two colleagues, Irene Massimino and Kjell Anderson, to Iraqi Kurdistan in January 2016. We were there to witness and collect evidence of the genocides being committed by ISIS against Iraqi Christians, Ezidis, Shabaks and other minorities. While there we were overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality of traumatized peoples who are watching as their ancient ways of life are being destroyed.
We visited several refugee camps, where families escaping ISIS are now housed. The camps are impressively clean and well-run. But they are of course struggling for resources and services, especially treatments for trauma. As we spoke with refugees, I realized that there was nothing for teenagers to do. There are schools in the camps, but nowhere for teenagers to relax in a group setting and enjoy themselves. Having a teenager at home myself, and knowing how important social events and engagment in the world are for this age group, I decided then that my small direct contribution to this terrible tragedy would be to set up opportunities for teens to learn, relax and have fun in these refugee camps.
I am working with a young, energetic and unstoppable Iraqi agricultural engineer named Ranin Taher, who lives in the city of Erbil and works tirelessly, along with her family, on behalf of refugees. We will start with programs in the Christian refugee camps around Erbil. Once these are up and running, and funded, we would like to expand to other refugee camps, especially Ezidi and Shabak camps near Dohuk, tailoring our offerings to the needs and interests of teens in those communities.
We will be calling this initiative TeenSpirit, and I see it as the first step towards a larger initiative called World Families United, which will be aimed at bringing families together across the globe at the grassroots level in order to fight genocide and the patterns that lead up to it. All of us are part of families--whether by birth or by choice--and all of us understand the deep loyalty and responsibility we feel for our loved ones. Families are the building blocks of communities and the essential allies for world peace. Starting with an understanding of the love we feel for our own family members, each one of us can recognize that all families deserve to live in a world that respects our cultures, our human dignity, and our right to live in safe and free communities.
The money raised through this campaign will go directly to fund programs for teens in refugee camps in Iraq, starting with those in Erbil. Ranin and I will be working with the Shlomo Documentation Center, a local NGO in Erbil, to set up these programs, as Shlomo already has a presence in the refugee camps, where it is collecting refugee testimonials and other evidence of persecution and genocide.
Ranin asked young people in one refugee camp fill out a questionnaire about what they would like to do with their free time (see photo). The top two choices, in order of popularity, were English classes and piano lessons. The funds we are collecting therefore will be used for the following:
1. Payment of English instructors to come to teach classes at the refugee camp. 2. One-time purchases of basic resources for instruction. 3. On-going purchases of paper, notebooks, pencils and pens. 3. (Eventual plan) Payment of piano instructors to come four days a week to teach 14 students per day (estimated $50 per instructor per day). 4. (Eventual plan) One-time purchases of 3-5 electric pianos for instruction and practice. 5. Biweekly entertainment events, such as art classes and movies.
Alongside our programming, Shlomo will invite professors from universities in Erbil, Dohuk and Baghdad to hold workshops with the teenagers about human rights, children's rights, building self-confidence, health education, college and career planning, and so forth. These workshops will be enjoyable for them and also offer them a sense of integration with the world outside of the refugee camps.
If you would like to donate to the Shlomo organization and help fund their efforts to document genocide against Iraqi Christians, please note this in your comments and indicate how much of your donation should go to TeenSpirit and how much to Shlomo. Or you can donate twice and note "Shlomo" in the comments on one of the donations.
While at this point we are only collecting money to fund this project, eventually we hope to be able to collect donations in kind to send to Iraq. I am also working on gaining non-profit status in the USA as 501(c)3 organization, which will make donations tax exempt in the USA. I will make an announcement on this site when this has been accomplished.
I cannot thank you enough for your support of our efforts to bring to Iraqi refugee teens much-needed relief from the stress and monotony of the refugee camps. You are helping to work against genocide in a very direct and practical way, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
We will keep everyone updated on the progress of our program!