Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: United States

Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program

Iraqi Boy

Program Description

The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) is a four-week summer exchange program in the United States, which brings English-speaking high school students from Iraq to explore the themes of leadership development, civic rights and responsibilities, respect for diversity, and community engagement. On the exchange funded by the U.S. Department of State, competitively selected American students join Iraqi participants in some of the U.S. based activities.

Participants are between the ages of 15 and 17 and are recruited from all provinces in Iraq. Iraqi adult chaperones/mentors will accompany the students, and are educators or community leaders who work with youth and have demonstrated an interest in promoting youth leadership and social development.

The program continues after the U.S. based exchange with follow-on activities in the participants’ home communities, including through alumni activities focused on leadership development.

Program Cycle

Students travel to the United States in July/August to spend the initial two weeks at World Learning’s Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont; followed by two-week homestays in cities across the United States (including Ann Arbor, Michigan); and conclude their program in Washington, DC.

Alumni conferences following the exchange may be held in Erbil, Iraq.

Program Goals & Objectives, as defined by the Department of State

The goals of the program are to:

  • Promote mutual understanding between youth in the United States and Iraq;
  • Enable the Iraqi participants to understand civic participation and rights and responsibilities in a democracy;
  • Promote community engagement among Iraqi youth;
  • Develop leadership skills among Iraqi and American youth; and
  • Foster understanding and relationships between people of different ethnic and religious groups.

Opportunities for American High School Students and their Families

Iraqi high school students will spend two weeks in Ann Arbor, Michigan, from July 9-23, 2016.  The Iraqi students must stay with local families in a “home-stays” for the two-week period.  Programming for the Iraqi and American students will involve leadership development training, team building, volunteering, participation in sport, music and/or arts programming and day camps, and facilitated discussions on current issues and select topics chosen by the students.  There will also be optional sightseeing, shopping, museum visits, sporting events and other cultural/social outings on evenings and weekends. The American students who participate will receive certificates of completion for the leadership development and teambuilding workshops, and written acknowledgement of their 80 hours of volunteer service.

For more information about this opportunity, please refer to the following websites:

Or, contact the following people:

Barbara Peitsch, Program Director,, 734/239-3513 or

Surry Scheerer, Co-Director,, 734/646-2885

Give Americans Some Slack, Not Jail Time

Chained Slave

On Monday, an L.A. Judge announced that a 74-year-old grandmother would be released from prison after serving 32 years for a murder she did not commit. In 1981, Jones’ abusive boyfriend kidnapped two drug dealers and then forced Jones at gunpoint to drive them into an alley, where the boyfriend shot one of the men. Jones ran from the scene, expecting to be killed too. Instead, the teacher’s aide and churchgoer with no criminal record was charged with and convicted for two counts of murder and other crimes.

Also on Monday, the Real Housewives of New Jersey Teresa Guidice, a mother of 4 children, was sentenced for 15 months of jail time for fraud charges. Her husband was sentenced to 4 years.

The majority of Americans are hardworking people who try to give back to the community. They want to do the right thing, they try to help, they pretty much follow the rules, which is not so easy given the number of rules they have to follow. They are good people, and yet they get slapped pretty hard for being human and making mistakes or in Jones’ case, being caught in the wrong situation.

“Over-incarceration in America destabilizes families and communities,” writes Piper Kerman, in Orange is the New Black. “We have a racially biased justice system that over punishes, fails to rehabilitate and does not make us safer.”

Read Amanda Scherker’s article in the Huffington Post and you will see how easily a person can be locked up as a “criminal” for a non-violent offense, which not only ruins his or her life but that of his family, and in return affects us greatly as a community while making corporations quite rich.

It’s pretty scary! According to the article, the total prison population has grown by 500 percent over the last 30 years. Currently, one-third of the world’s entire imprisoned female population is awaiting trial or serving sentences in the U.S., mostly for nonviolent crimes. Many are mothers. And we lock up more juveniles than any other developed country.

Americans do not deserve this type of harsh treatment – especially not while the real criminals are out there, happily sauntering around, living rich off of others’ destruction.

Utilizing the Constitution to Stop ISIS

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I picked up my kindergartner from school the other day, he was wearing a white, red, and blue paper hat he made in class. I asked him what it was for, and he said, smiling, “It’s constitushi day.”

“What?” I asked.

“It’s constitushi day,” he said with an even bigger smile.

“Mom, it’s Constitution Day,” my daughter explained.

I was glad that the teachers had the children pay special attention to this important day, so kids can learn the value of the constitution at an early age. As drafted, the Constitution’s purpose was to create a government that had enough power to act on a national level, but without so much power that individual’s fundamental rights would be at risk.

But many adults need to revisit the values of the Constitution, and act upon this privilege that in many countries is obsolete. Having been raised under Saddam’s totalitarian regime, I can tell you that people in the United States do not fully utilize the political freedoms bestowed upon them.  Oftentimes this freedom is taken for granted. If that continues, I’m afraid that one day we will see ISIS strolling around in our neighborhoods.

“ISIS is here, they’re capable of striking,” CNN national security analyst and former CIA operative Bob Baer

Coming to this Country 33 Years Ago

Coming to America

Today marks 33 years that I’ve been living in the United States. I remember on our drive home from Metro Airport February 2, 1981, I was in awe at the sight of all the snow that covered the streets. Having come from a land of sand and rivers, I was not accustomed to so much whiteness.

For years, I’ve wondered why I ended up in this country. It was not I who chose to flee Iraq and come to America. My parents made that decision, of course, since I was a child. I’ve oven thought, did they foresee the terrible condition that Iraq and the rest of the Middle East was going to be in in the upcoming decades?

“You are a creative person, and that’s why you came to this country,” one of my mentors once said to me. “You came here to be able to do your writing and to be able to help women of that region which you came from.”

Thank God, my parents were able to foresee the future and bring us to a place where creativity, and not oppression, is what’s encouraged.

9/11 Recurs Every 3 1/2 Months

911 Memorial

Early Thursday morning, April 11, gun violence survivors and families of victims finished reading the names of all the people who have been killed by guns since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting less than four months prior. The list of over 3300 people took 12 hours to read.

The total number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks was 2977. With the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government responded within a blink of an eye. They made plans for the War on Terrorism, thus began the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Many lives were lost and destroyed. However, if you were to ask any government official who gave their consent to the wars, they’d likely say, “We think the price was worth it” – the exact answer that their colleague Madeline Albright had given decades ago when she was asked if the death of 500,000 Iraqi children due to the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq was worth it.

Over 1,057,000 have been killed in the United States by gun violence since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980. That’s 1,054,000 more people than those who died in 9/11, and that’s only counting the last 22 years. Yet a few days ago, something as simple as President Obama’s background check reform plan failed to win enough votes by the senate.

My question is this: are not your average everyday victims of gun violence, who outnumber the victims of 9/11 by more than a million, worthy of consideration when making the slightest changes regarding the very thing that took their lives? And, why is it always so much easier to pass laws that destroy people (war) rather than laws that help save people (health and gun reform)?

Meeting Little Sarah in Germany
Video of my cousin Ayad with his daughter Sarah and his niece – talking in Aramaic, he shows them a church in Germany

The Frankfurt Book Fair held in Frankfurt, Germany in 2004 welcomed the Arab League as Guest of Honor. I attended the book fair, which was an interesting ten day experience. But what I remember most about Germany is my cousin Ayad, his wife Furrat, and their little daughter Sarah, who at that time was about a year old.

I stayed at my cousin’s home, and I’ll never forget what great hosts Ayad and his wife were. I’ll also never forget how much my cousin loved his daughter. I was engaged at the time and when I returned to the United States, I kept in contact with him and his family. I ended up getting married shortly afterwards and having my first child and he had a son and then another daughter. Then suddenly, one day I heard he was diagnosed with cancer. He died within weeks. I couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t stop thinking about Sarah. His last request was that she be well taken care of, given how much she was accustomed to him pampering her. In the above link to the video, her cousin calls her “Sarah, the pampered one.”

Well, I know that his little family had one hell of a time after he passed away. But today I got news that Sarah, who has since moved with her mother and siblings to the United States, woke up this morning unable to see. She was taken to the hospital, and they discovered she has brain cancer. She is now in critical condition and doctors are not sure if she will make it.

Her aunts, uncles and cousins have posted pictures of her, praying for God to save her. It has been nearly nine years since I saw Sarah, but I remember her enough for my heart to go out to her and her family and to pray for her well being.