IYLEP Blog Contest: Making a difference at home

Students from the Natakaful program show off their certificates of achievement in class.


Alumni of the 2013 Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program reconnected this winter 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 U.S. 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.

In Iraq we have the problem of too many illiterate, homeless children who are out in the streets asking for money from people. Nobody cares about them—the best any one could do is give them 50 cents. We want to change that, we want to put a smile on those children’s faces and, through doing so, we would also like to help them.

I worked with some friends of mine to gather used clothes and toys from people who didn’t need them, and we cleaned them and give them to the children. We gave educational sessions about writing and reading. We presented them with the toys and clothes as a reward for completing the sessions, so that we help reduce the illiteracy rate, give clothes to those who need them, and put a smile on the children’s faces.

As a medical student, I worked with my friends to give those children simple advice about personal hygiene and how to prevent themselves from common diseases in Iraq.

Unfortunately, we will not provide houses to these children but this is only the beginning. Maybe we could help them find a job or a better life, or maybe we could make connections to help them with their housing problem.

During the IYLEP program we had to do volunteer work in different NGOs. It was a new experience for me to get to know more about volunteer and charity work in the U.S. and I tried to transfer what I learned during the program to my friends in Iraq to get better results in our work together.

Our project’s name is ‘Natakafal ‘ which means we stand together whether by doing something as simple as donating a piece of clothing or giving a lesson in writing and reading, we help each other.

Through our focus at VCU’s Social Media Institute, IYLEP taught me about the importance of social media to reach out to more people so that the people would stop neglecting them. Hopefully if we draw attention to these children’s problems, they would start looking at them as only children and they will join our expanding team and help us work with larger number of children.