Editor’s note: Meghan Hurley and Amanda Finnegan received the Eileen Egan award for journalism because of stories they did for Loquitur on Fair Trade. This is the highest award for journalism given to journalists writing for Catholic publications. They are the first journalists to win who wrote for a college newspaper. As a result of their award, they traveled to Syria and Lebanon with Catholic Relief Services for two weeks at the beginning of October to report on the Iraqi refugee crisis. This is a report by Meghan Hurley on the Iraqi Student Project.
The Iraqi Student Project was started out of the need for two Americans to do something for the country of Iraq. Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak started the project in 2007 after they saw how many young students had to flee Iraq and leave behind any opportunity of continuing their education.
Based in Damascus, Syria, Huck and Kubasak are now preparing to send a second group of Iraqi students to the United States to receive a four-year college education.
“This can help break down stereotypes Americans have about Iraqis and Arabs,” Kubasak said.
They are currently preparing a group of more than 11 students to receive tuition waivers from colleges and universities all over the United States. Among the requirements for applying, which include being proficient in English and not having the financial ability to study in Syria or another Middle Eastern country, they have to be firm in their willingness to return to Iraq once they have graduated.
The desire of the Iraqi students to return home to Iraq after studying in the United States was strongly apparent.
Moustafa studied pharmacy for two years in Iraq before he had to leave.
“I just hope to be a good pharmacist,” he said. “I am planning to return to Baghdad to help put my country back together.”
“I want to complete my study of medicine because that is what my country needs,” Raed, another student preparing to study in the U.S., said. Loquitur is not using last names to ensure their safety.
These students have all had to leave Iraq due to threats and the increasing violence around their homes and universities. Dhuba, who has already being in college for two years, had to leave Iraq after he got shot in the hand.
Rahman, 24, arrived in Damascus in 2007. He left Baghdad because he was threatened and it became too dangerous to attend classes.
“I hope to do everything in my country,” he said. “We can show the world the good things about Iraq.” Rahman hopes to study theater.
He is also worried about what will happen to the children, to the next generation. Currently, he is working as a clown and entertains Iraqi refugee children at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees registration center and the Danish Refugee Council.
“It’s not about people who want to put Iraq back on the right track,” he said. “It’s about people who want to study pharmacy, theater, medicine.”
Fouad, 19, found it too difficult to finish his studies in Syria and had to give them up in order to work to support his family.
“When I look at my life, I feel depressed. I can’t see my future. The happiest moment I ever had was when I met Gabe and Theresa. I am not just dreaming to have a future, I am working towards that.”