Written by Abdulaziz A.
Alumni of the 2013 Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) reconnected this past February in Erbil. Alums from both the High School and Undergraduate programs gathered to reflect on their experiences and participate in workshops and panel discussions that built upon the skills students developed last summer in the United States. Meridian invited IYLEP alumni to submit a blog post describing their personal experience and growth with the program. We selected the winning entries to post on The LEAD. Abdulaziz was selected as one of the winners for the IYLEP High School group.
When Khalid, Maryam and I returned to Baghdad after the 2013 Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) in the United States, we decided to start a project to help poor people in Baghdad. We looked for students in our schools that had the same interests. We were really surprised to get support from a lot of the students. We collected used clothes and contributions from neighbors, friends and family in a 2-week period. We chose a neighborhood where poverty is really high. In order to distribute the goods, we had to get permission from the police and be escorted. Unfortunately, distribution points, where many people gather to receive charity, are often the targets of terrorist groups. The police were not helpful, but one of our cousins recommended we approach the Iraqi army. The army wants to build up and encourage more civic action, so we made a search for the areas in Baghdad that are under control of the army. We found really poor families living in houses made of mud.
We sorted the clothes and made bags containing a blanket and clothes for kids and adults. Other team members went to the market to buy 45 kg meat. The next day, we went to an area called “Hey-Dragh.” We selected 50 households and gave each family 1 kg of meat and 1 bag. So our idea worked and we were so happy because at the early stages we felt so terrified that it would not work. We also found a new goal — to inspire other youth. Imagine if each high school had a team like we have and conducted a similar activity 4 times a year!
During our reunion in early February, 2014, we made plans to do this again in the summer and some of the other IYLEP participants will do the same in their cities. We are also planning to share the idea with youth by visiting schools and telling them what we are doing and how they can help us and help our community.
In the end we are so grateful that we had the chance to be creative and active in our society. Without the training of Meridian International and Legacy International, we couldn’t do this. We didn’t know how to start such ideas plus we didn’t have that confidence. Now everything has changed — we now believe that it’s not only important to change ourselves; it is extremely important to engage others.