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College in MI for Iraqi Refugees

August 10, 2009

SAGINAW, Mich. - College students in Michigan may soon be learning about the war in Iraq from young adults who have lived through it. Iraqi refugees will be attending school at Saginaw Valley State University 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, who will begin her second year at Dominican University in San Rafael, California, 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 watched 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. Many people are very surprised to know that even women in Iraq go to college or go to the university."

The Iraqi Student Project, which is a non-profit, was founded by Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak after they 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.'"

The students are allowed to enter the United States on F1 visas only after lengthy screening by the project and by the Homeland Security Department. The F1 visa status means they must return to Iraq when they finish their educations.

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

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - MI