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College in WI for Iraqi Refugees

August 12, 2009

MILWAUKEE, Wisc. - When the fall semester begins, Wisconsin college students may be learning about the war in Iraq from young adults who have lived through it. Iraqi refugees will attend school at Alverno College in Milwaukee and at schools in more than a dozen other states, thanks to the efforts of a Chicago couple who founded the Iraqi Student Project two years ago.

Farah Mohsen soon begins her second year at Dominican University in San Rafael, California. She spent the summer volunteering in Chicago and was deeply moved by the outpouring of support she has received.

"I met so many American people who just hugged me with their eyes full of tears, saying, 'We are very sorry; we are truly apologizing for what happened to your country and to your people.'"

In the past, adds Mohsen, she only knew of two kinds of Americans: the ones driving tanks and the ones from American television shows she watched in Iraq. She says many Americans she's met also had misconceptions about the Iraqi culture, particularly the roles of women.

"We had women that are lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers. Many people are very surprised to know that even women in Iraq go to college or the university."

The Iraqi Student Project is a nonprofit organization, created by Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak after they retired and moved to Damascus to learn Arabic. They felt compelled to act, says Kubasak, when they realized more than 1.5 million Iraqi refugees were living in Syria, where many of the young people had no chance to work or go to school.

"Around that time, we started to think, 'What can we do? What can we do as American citizens, not to count on a government program, but to count on ourselves as people who care about the world?' And we thought, 'Education's the key.'"

The students are allowed to enter the United States on an F1 visa only after a lengthy screening by the project and by the U.S. Homeland Security Department. An F1 visa means they must return to Iraq when they finish their education.

Information on Iraqi refugee programs can be found online at www.afsc.org or iraqistudentproject.org.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - WI