Omar finished high school in spring 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq. He was not able to get his records or diploma, but he was soon involved in learning to use cameras and recorders to document the chaos surrounding him in Baghdad.
Omar joined other young video-makers in an attempt to go where other media outlets would not go. While some were killed, others, like Omar, had to leave Iraq to work from Syria.
Currently, Omar’s days consist of classes at the American Language Center, attending a tutoring session four times a week and going to the writing workshop on Fridays. Afterwards, he finds time to play billiards and speak in English with other students when they visit the Russian Cultural Center.
Omar is just one of the university-age students who hopes to participate in the Iraqi Student Project. This project intends to place Iraqi students at participating colleges and universities in the United States. He intends to pursue the study of media and wants to major in business administration.
So far, nine American colleges and universities have committed themselves to hosting Iraqi students in the fall of 2008 with either full scholarship or tuition waivers only as a part of the Iraqi Student Project. Many other colleges and universities are currently in talks and those involved with the project are working heavily to form support groups.
Ashley Harrison is a senior political science major at Evergreen University in Olympia, Wash., and is an active member of a group dedicated to this project, the Iraqi Student Solidarity Committee.
“The student group has been incredibly active around this issue, collecting over 650 student signatures, getting a resolution of support passed by faculty and gathering community support for this project,” Harrison said. “We have made our formal proposal to the college administration and are currently in dialog with them to bring students, but they have not made a commitment to providing the [tuition] waivers.”
The project currently has 20 students looking for placements and is in need of an additional eight slots for the remaining students.
Michele Pistone is a professor of law at Villanova University School of Law and a member of the board of directors for the project. According to Pistone, those involved with the project have been working to create a support network to assist the students once they are cleared to come to the schools.
“The real thing is getting schools in the area to commit,” Pistone said. “Ideally, we would like to have several students in a particular region where they can then have contact with each other and have their own support network.”
The goal of the project is to have students cleared and able to attend these colleges when the selection process is completed.
Former teacher and graphic artist Jane Pitz is also a member on the board of directors and is working to gain support from colleges and universities in South Bend, Ind., where she currently resides.
“How many students we will have here in August 2008 is out of our hands once the students have been accepted and take on the visa application process,” Pitz said. “I have hopes as do others involved in the program that we would have at least 13 students here to begin studying in the autumn.”
Currently, the project continues through the selection process as the support groups continue to be formed. Many behind the project are working to gain support in the states so that the project can be successful in its transition for the Iraqi students to study.
“ISP and these students need advocates in the US to get tuition waivers, to build support groups, to let the State Department and Congress and Homeland Security know that we owe Iraqis; yet we Americans too will benefit if these young people can come to do their studies here,” Gabe Huck, member on the board and head of the project in Syria, said.