Iraqi Student Project sending first student to Colorado

The war in Iraq has forced many Iraqi students to abandon their hopes of an education. Some fled the country and had to put their education on hold, while others found their schools destroyed.

Recognizing these problems, the Iraqi Student Project, a St. Louis-based organization that has volunteers and support groups around the country, has been offering Iraqi students study programs in the United States since 2007.

And Colorado is about to get its first ISP student.

ISP was founded by a husband-and-wife team, Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak, both of whom had traveled to and worked in Iraq before the war. They started advocating for the Iraqi people in 1990, after the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on the country. Since starting ISP, hey have lived in Damascus, where they teach English to ISP students who live there as Iraqi refugees. However, Huck and Kubasak returned to the U.S. last month due to increasing violence in the area.

A young woman from Baghdad, Riyam Al-Karkokliy, will be the first ISP student to attend school in Colorado -- at Regis University. Al-Karkokliy was born in 1993 to a family that valued education. Her father died when she was eleven, and she lost other family members and friends during the war.

She has been studying English for the past year in Damascus with Huck, Kubasak and other ISP volunteers, and brushed up on her academics in preparation for starting classes at Regis this fall. She is one of eight students in the ISP Class of 2016; the others will be attending DePaul University, Fontbonne University, Oberlin College, Lewis University, Whitman University, Smith College and Christian Brothers University. Regis has awarded her a scholarship that includes tuition, fees, books and other school expenses. She has been in touch with a Regis adviser and will live with a host family in the metro area.

Al-Karkokliy lists reading, painting and writing poetry as hobbies in her autobiography, which will be posted on the ISP website once she has safely left Damascus. She is expected to arrive in Denver on August 13th. "One thing that I always want is to help poor people all over the world and to find a way to spread justice," she writes. "I have a deep hope that the world could be a better place if people would forgive and love one another."

Local support groups help ISP students with cultural changes; the groups also host a series of special events to raise both funds and awareness. Tom Powers leads the Denver support group with his wife, Jeanne. The two met Huck and Kubasak at an education workshop in Denver over a decade ago and decided to get involved with ISP after realizing how many Iraqi students were displaced during the war. According to Powers, the program's ultimate goal is to help the students return to Iraq after getting an education, so they can help with the rebuilding process.

"People in the community will realize that because of the unfortunate consequences of war, schools were completely destroyed and Iraqi students who were qualified were unable to continue studying," Powers says. "It's a nice service to be able to provide an education to young people who were involved in a war. It's a wonderful thing."

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