“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," Valerie Wayson, APP Instructor
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.
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@example.com.