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College in America for Iraqi Refugees



August 3, 2009

CHICAGO - When the fall semester begins, Illinois college students may be learning about the war in Iraq from young adults who have lived through it. Iraqi refugees will be attending college at De Paul, Dominican, and Lewis Universities in Illinois, and in more than a dozen other states, thanks to the efforts of a Chicago couple who founded the Iraqi Student Project (ISP) two years ago.

One such student, Farah Mohsen, will begin her second year at Dominican University in San Rafael, California. She spent the summer volunteering in Chicago and says she 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, you know, apologizing for what happened to your country and to your people."

Mohsen says that in the past she only knew of two kinds of Americans, the ones driving the tanks and the ones from American TV shows she used to watch in Iraq. Many Americans, she says, were surprised to find out that, before the war, Iraqi women had been working in professional fields.

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

The ISP was founded by Gabe Huck and his wife Theresa Kubasak after they had retired and moved to Damascus to learn Arabic. Kubasak says they felt compelled to do something when they realized that more than one and a half million Iraqi refugees were living in Syria, and many 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.'"

Kubasak and Huck, who personally meet with each of the students and their families, are very selective about who they choose.

"We want to make sure that the students really succeed in college, but also we promise to the college that the student they're sponsoring will be a success for them and will be a shining star for them."

The Iraqi students are allowed to enter the United States on F1 visas only after a lengthy screening by the project, and by the 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 at www.afsc.org and at
iraqistudentproject.org

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL