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College in MA for Iraqi Refugees

August 10, 2009

WORCESTER, Mass. - When the fall semester begins, some Massachusetts college students may be learning about the war in Iraq from young adults who have lived through it: Iraqi refugees who will be attending school at Clark University, Worcester. Young Iraqis also will attend 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 will begin her second year at Dominican University in San Rafael, Calif. She spent the summer volunteering in Chicago, and says she was deeply moved by the outpouring of support she has received.

"I have 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.'"

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, don't know that, before the war, Iraqi women had been working in professional fields.

"We had women 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 nonprofit organization, 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 1.5 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 an F1 visa only after a lengthy screening by Iraqi Student Project administrators and the Department of Homeland Security. An F1 visa means they must return to Iraq when they finish their education.

More information about Iraqi refugee programs can be found at www.afsc.org and http://iraqistudentproject.org.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - MA