KURDISTAN, Iraq – Upon returning to the United States from tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, many U.S. veterans find themselves not only struggling to assimilate back to civilian life but also wondering about the people they assisted during their tour.
Three Iraq war veterans, Zach Bazzi, Scott Quilty and Patrick Hu, thought a lot about the people they had helped and decided they still wanted to have an impact in Iraq. Moving from war veterans to humanitarians, the trio started a nonprofit called Tent Education, which supports the education of Syrian refugee children in two camps in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
Iraq, which has historically had high numbers of displaced people, currently has more than 220,000 registered Syrian refugees as well as 500,000 displaced Iraqis who have fled escalating violence in Anbar province.
The children of these refugee and displaced families have had their lives interrupted and educations put on hold as they grapple with the unstable reality of camp life. Around 30 percent of child refugees attend classes in the refugee camps, meaning the vast majority are vulnerable to child labor, sexual exploitation, child marriages and recruitment into religious extremist groups.
With an uncertain future and lack of strong education initiatives, the worry of the founders of TentEd was that that this generation of children would grow up without a strong education foundation. The ramifications of this would inevitably lead to limited work opportunities as well as an increased likelihood of falling toward extremist rhetoric.
Recognizing this problem from their tours of duty in Iraq, the TentEd co-founders created TentEd to fill the education gap. Their mission aims to support schools in the Domiz and Gawilan refugee camps – providing “tailored support…in direct response the requests and needs of school officials and students…”
The organization, which was designed from the outset to be small and flexible, works in tandem with existing, larger organizations in the camps and functions underneath a parent organization operating called the Education for Peace in Iraq Center.
While the need for TentEd is undeniable, the co-founders recognize that they have begun operating in a time when humanitarian assistance is decreasing in the area. In fact, it is expected that by 2015, USAID will stop sending money to Iraq period.
In lieu of the recent violence by ISIS, more and more refugees have begun fleeing north into the Kurdistan region, straining already limited resources. Between the violence and increase in refugees from different provinces in Iraq (as well as Syria), the lack of funding will only heighten tensions in the region, creating volatile hotbeds for future conflict.
With only 10 percent of appeals for humanitarian funding reaching Iraq, there is dire need for more attention to be refocused to the area. TentEd, while small, is one organization that is filling a vital gap. Thinking beyond the immediate survival needs of the refugees, the co-founders realized that if there is to be long-term stability and peace in the region where they fought on behalf of the U.S., education for the refugee children is only one of many important areas that need to be addressed.
– Andrea Blinkhorn