Update: I finished my fellowship in Kurdistan at the end of June 2013, but will continue to put up photos and posts from a much too substantial backlog. In the meantime, look out for future Integrate Hands fellows in the next year!

I am currently working in Rania, a small city in Kurdistan (northern Iraq), as a fellow with Integrate Hands. Most of my work is concentrated on teaching English to third, fourth, and fifth graders at Bradost Elementary School, and training Kurdish English teachers. Bradost was started by Komak, a Swedish-Kurdish NGO working to provide quality education in Kurdistan. Integrate Hands was founded to support the work of local NGOs such as Komak in postconflict societies, to “meet international standards of education and break patterns of violence.” Both Komak and Integrate Hands are working to provide children with the ability to think creatively and critically, and to foster confidence and a genuine appreciation and love for learning: teaching children how to think, not what to think.

I came to Kurdistan to try and do my small part in improving education in postconflict societies, a monumental task for sure and one that I have no illusions about concerning the role I can play. Postconflict reconstruction and rebuilding is so often reduced to state- and/or nationbuilding in academic and policy circles, with elite accommodation considered the most expedient way to move forward from conflict. Elite-centered statebuilding is of course necessary, but not at the expense of society and people’s day-to-day needs and concerns. Even when just considering my own life, education has been one of the most important tools I have in navigating the challenges life likes to throw at you. And though growing up in Kenya had challenges of its own, I had a really comfortable childhood, a great education, and a wonderful environment in which to become my own person. Children in Kurdistan now may not be experiencing active conflict, but they must suffer the consequences of decades of violent oppression, sanctions, and war. For children everywhere, education is empowerment, but Kurdish children do not receive the kind of education they deserve and desperately need.

The following is an excerpt from Katinka Nicou’s journal on her motivations for starting Integrate Hands.

“When the US invaded Iraq, 60% of Iraq’s population were under 18. Today, Youth Unemployment is 57%, 65% of youths don’t know how to use a computer, and 70% of Baghdad’s children have been diagnosed with severe trauma. Enrolment in Secondary Education is only 21%. Armed groups and insurgencies are actively recruiting children to fight and carry out suicide attacks. Meanwhile, in the last three years, almost 100 billion dollars of foreign investment have entered Iraq, funding advancements in the oil and gas industry, telecommunications, real estate and hospitality. In the plethora of public and media debate about Iraq, I have continuously asked myself who has yet reflected on the promise of an Iraqi future through the minds of the millions of children who will ultimately own it? How do they view the possibilities of their future when on the whole their country has grown ever more unstable during their formative years? Will they receive the educational foundation for independent thought and critical discourse required of a democratic society, or the individual empowerment necessary for a prosperous free market economy? I believe there is a significant gap between the worldview of the enormous wave of children growing up in Iraq and the opportunity available to their country as articulated by foreign investors and policy makers, and that gap can only be filled by education.”

(The full text can be found on the Integrate Hands Facebook page).

I am in Iraq – or rather, Kurdistan – to help right the gross imbalance of investment and make education a priority. However, my personal motivation for coming to teach English in Kurdistan isn’t so that my students can learn more words and phrases in English. That is a secondary goal. The idea that students around the world need to learn English to “get ahead in life” or to have more successful careers is an unfortunate legacy of colonialism and Eurocentrism, but it is a (hegemonic) reality that I’ve reluctantly accepted. Because at the end of the day, it is true that learning English and having the ability to communicate in this language makes it easier for people to get jobs, travel, and meet and befriend a diverse range of people. But what I really want my students to take away from our year together is confidence in their ability to think for themselves, in creative and critical ways. Here’s to a good year and to continuing my kaleidoscope journey.

Disclaimer: This is a personal blog documenting my ‘Kaleidoscope Journey’ through life. All views and opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Komak or Integrate Hands (or any other affiliated organization) unless explicitly stated. Any reflections on what will probably be a myriad of topics are never intended to negatively criticize (only constructive criticism!), insult, defame, hurt or harm. That being said, certain sensitive or controversial topics may be addressed with my personal opinion; opinion being the key word here. I welcome any constructive feedback and especially differing opinions. However, please refrain from childish, ignorant, and malicious behavior and use of language. Civility is a much-lacking quality in today’s world, but that doesn’t mean we need to be inconsiderate ourselves. Thanks!


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