The Beginning of an End of a Beginning
The day has come. It's a day that I've shed tears over - both of joy and sadness, but mostly pride. Pride in growth I've seen in others - pride in the successes I've seen - and pride in what we've been able to accomplish.
Almost 4 years ago, the world watched as a group of people were systematically killed, sold, or displaced. Shocks of fear rippled out from Iraq and Syria and reached what seemed like every corner of the world, but no one felt the reality of the terror like those on Sinjar Mountain, or in Mosul City, or in the center of the Syrian Civil War.
One year later, we arrived in Kurdistan with some paperwork, compassion, and a lot of hope that we could make a difference. EDGE has been operating in Northern Iraq for nearly three years. We stumbled through several starts and stutters, shut-downs, and unsuccessful programs. We also made a lot of friends, shared a lot of laughs, learned a lot about how trauma impacts education and how education impacts trauma, and did indeed start to make that difference. From the couple hundred teens who participated in our English, exam prep, and medical courses - to the teachers who attended our training workshops - to the hundreds of kids in our Pop-Up programs, and the more than 300 kids who've been through our Haven Center Program - we are proud of the thousand some people who have been impacted by our programming here.
Perhaps the best thing that has happened over these last few years, though, is a relationship that started at a little coffee shop in a mall. We camped out to interview candidates for a translator position all day, topping off Americanos and trying to tally how many of Iraq's young had translated for the U.S. Army in some capacity or another. But a young Yezidi educator with good English, more siblings than he could count, an open mind, and a compassionate heart grabbed our attention.
For the next three months we got to know Zirak and some of his friends and colleagues through long road trips to the camps where we were running English classes. He gained our trust based on friendship and mutual respect, and before long, when we got word that we needed to head back to the U.S. earlier than we'd planned, we knew we could leave the work of the Haven Center, opened primarily for Yezidi displaced kids, in Zirak's hands. He helped us build a team that we trusted, and for the last two years we have watched them grow the programs, gain community trust and respect, and impact the lives of hundreds of kids who have been otherwise forgotten.
We are currently running our sixth session of programs at the Haven Center for kids who are settled in and around Shariya town, but are out-of-school for a variety of reasons. Our most recent session served 22 kids who had been in ISIS captivity, and the others are either orphaned by ISIS (one or both parents) or have relatives still in ISIS captivity. We have watched kids who were severely traumatized by their experiences change their behaviors, begin to participate in class, show up on time, and encourage others in their learning.
This has been a life-transforming experience, and work that we are incredibly proud of.
But now we are proud of an even bigger accomplishment. If you had asked us in 2015 when we moved here what our goals were, we would have told you that we wanted to run gap-filling educational programming for out of school youth for two years and help equip the community to both recover and rebuild to the point they don't need our work, but also to equip them to continue running gap-filling work should that still be needed.
And tomorrow - tomorrow we are having a big party, because we have accomplished that. EDGE is going to be officially backing out of our primary work in Northern Iraq, and tomorrow, the Haven Organization is going to officially launch. We will continue on in an advisory role, and I can't imagine not being back here many times, but we have watched our team grow and develop in their programming and their ability to run this work even better than we can from afar. We are so proud of them and their hard work, and we are thrilled to launch them off with a lot of love and all the support we can give them.
So, as we reflect back on the last three years of work in Northern Iraq, and the last two years of the Haven Center, we are so thankful - thankful for those of you who have helped make this work a reality, and thankful for our team who have worked tirelessly to better the lives of the kids around them.
We wish you could celebrate with us tomorrow! BUT we are planning on sharing a Live Facebook video during the event if the internet permits - so definitely make sure you are following both EDGE and the Sentere Penageh on Facebook!
Want to support the work and mission of both EDGE and the Haven Center? Share your favorite thing about our work on your social media channels with either a picture of one our kids or a balloon as we celebrate this major milestone in our work! Or, choose your favorite inspiration from the gallery of Hope for Miles photos below and share!