When I was little, I loved solving puzzles. There was very little more satisfying than finally figuring out a riddle, or solving a logic problem, or beating a particularly tricky computer game. As I got older, the puzzles got bigger, more complicated, and infinitely more interesting. The harder a puzzle was to figure out, the more invested into it I became. This quality has been consistent throughout my life, and when I went to college I figured that it probably would be the basis of my career too. I was heavily invested in U.S. politics by then, having graduated to totally unsolvable puzzles, and I knew that I was going to go on to work in Congress or for the White House. There I would try and “win,” though I never was quite sure what that would actually look like.
It was in this context that I stumbled onto the crisis in the Middle East. It was hard not to those days – the Arab Spring had just begun, dictatorships were falling all over the Middle East, and it seemed that solutions to the region’s many problems were suddenly at hand. I read endless articles about whether the events on the ground validated the Bush Doctrine, weakened or strengthened Obama, or a hundred other takes from people who were treating it as just as much of a puzzle as I was -fascinating, hopeful, but distant and remote, something that would fade into the background in a month or two. This remained the case until one day when a blog I was reading linked to a series of videos about the ongoing Syrian Revolution. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw – protestors getting gunned down by tanks, families being kidnapped on the street, a government bombing its own people just because it couldn’t hold on to the town they lived in. And that was just the start.
Rarely do you get to pinpoint an exact moment in your life where you can divide everything into a before, and an after. Before, all of these events were abstract. After, they have been anything but. It was no longer a puzzle – that word was too light. And it was no longer playing second string to political maneuvers and other “puzzles” that suddenly seemed much, much less important. I saw families fleeing en masse, refugees streaming out of the country, and camps across the region grow and grow. I reached out online, and began talking with people who were living through this experience – people who had to make terrible decisions and who still managed to hold on and survive. I watched as the chaos spread from Damascus to the entire country, then over the border to Mosul, then to just outside Baghdad, and I remember wondering if the people living through all of this would ever recover.
EPIC appealed to me because it aimed at exactly that question, through its focus on helping the group that is most important to Iraq and Syria’s future: their children. The chaos and suffering of war hurts everyone, yet it is undoubtedly the children who suffer the most. They are the only ones who can determine that the peace which follows is a stable and lasting one. They are the only sure way out of this crisis and towards a peaceful future, and EPIC’s focus on creating a space where they can rebuild their lives and start working towards a future, is vital. Only a concerted effort towards helping them can stop yet another catastrophe being born from the scars of this one, and EPIC’s efforts are a model for a better future.The hope that EPIC provides through Soccer Salam, and the opportunity that it provides through TentEd, is amazing, and I’m extremely excited and proud to help out during my time here.