Erik Gustafson: Executive Director
Erik K. Gustafson founded EPIC in 1998 to improve humanitarian conditions in Iraq and defend the human rights of the Iraqi people. Under his leadership, Gustafson has hosted dozens of policy forums and led humanitarian advocacy on Iraq in Washington DC. In 2008, he organized Iraq Action Days, which helped generate $1.8 billion in funding for war-affected Iraqis and other vulnerable persons worldwide.
From early 2009 to late 2010, Gustafson took a sabbatical from EPIC to spend time in Iraq. Based in Kurdistan Region of Iraq, he directed a $1 million professional development program for Iraqi human rights defenders. Participants included organizations from 9 of Iraq’s 18 provinces including Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Anbar, Kirkuk, and Erbil. Since his return, Gustafson has focused on implementing EPIC’s long-term goal of establishing a summer youth institute to serve young people and educators from around the region. In the near-term, he is working on small, high-impact projects that empower young Iraqis to promote peace and positive social change.
Last year, Gustafson successfully led EPIC’s first youth project in Iraq, the Iraqi Youth Hike, offering a diverse group of young Iraqis from the war-torn city of Kirkuk a chance to get away from the dust and violence and enjoy the great outdoors. Together they hiked mountainous landscapes, cooled off in a swimming hole, saw their first mountain goat and bear captured by a camera trap, and left with unforgettable memories and new friendships.
Gustafson is a U.S. Army veteran of the 1991 Gulf War. Witnessing the consequences of war has fueled his life-long passion for human rights, peacebuilding, and humanitarian work. Following military service, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a degree in Education. While there, Gustafson led the Madison chapter of the East Timor Action Network, supporting East Timor’s right to self-determination. he traveled to Iraq in 1997 and 1999 to investigate the deterioration of humanitarian conditions under Saddam Hussein’s regime and the most comprehensive economic sanctions ever imposed in the history of the United Nations. Gustafson currently resides in Washington DC with his wife, one-year old son, Aussie shepherd, and three cats.
Christian Chung joined the EPIC team in August. Currently an undergraduate in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Christian is majoring in Middle East Studies with a focus on Iraq. He recently returned from working in northern Iraq as a reporter for a news network, previously worked as a Research Assistant for a consulting firm specializing in post-conflict development, and has also interned for Congressman Ron Klein, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. A native Floridian, Christian hopes to remain involved in Iraq’s future and help EPIC develop the peacemaking power of Iraqi youth.
Joanna began an internship with EPIC in September. Specializing on youth and development she is a master’s candidate in international development at American University’s School of International Service. Joanna has spent the past three years working as a high school history teacher in New Hampshire. Prior to that she taughtoutdoor education to middle school students. Joanna is excited to bring her wealth of experience and passion for education and youth development to EPIC’s team.
Daniel joined EPIC as a Fall 2012 intern in September. He is currently a graduate student at the John C. White School of International Relations at Seton Hall with a focus on the Middle East and democratization issues. He recently traveled to Cairo to study Arabic and conduct research on the Arab Spring. Prior to his graduate studies, Daniel worked as an Americorps VISTA with a local community development non-profit focused on youth development in his home state of New Jersey. Daniel is looking forward to using his workforce, travel, and educational experience to advance the development goals of EPIC.