Erik Gustafson: Executive Director


Erik K. Gustafson is Executive Director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), an organization he founded in 1998. Gustafson is a U.S. Army veteran of the 1991 Gulf War. Witnessing the consequences of war has fueled a life-long passion for peacebuilding, human rights work and humanitarian advocacy. Following his military service, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a degree in education. While there, he led the Madison chapter of the East Timor Action Network, supporting East Timor’s right to self-determination. In 1997 and 1999, he traveled to Iraq 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.

In 1998, Gustafson moved to Washington DC and established EPIC to improve humanitarian conditions and promote human rights in Iraq. Under his leadership, EPIC has hosted dozens of policy forums and led humanitarian advocacy on Iraq in Washington DC. In 2008, Erik 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 the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, he worked with DePaul University’s International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI), directing a countrywide 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 from Iraq, Gustafson has focused on implementing EPIC’s new strategic plan of research, advocacy, and field work to serve young people and educators in Iraq and the region. In the summer of 2011, he led EPIC’s first youth project in Iraq, the Iraqi Youth Hike, in partnership with Nature Iraq. Offering a diverse group of young Iraqis from Kirkuk a chance to get away from the dust and violence and enjoy the great outdoors, the program included a guided hike along a dry wintering stream in the Piramagroon Mountains, a nature survey using camera traps, and presentations by Iraq’s leading mammal biologist, ornithologist, and botanist.

In 2013, Gustafson visited Syrian refugee camps and Iraqi IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to assess the response to the region’s growing humanitarian crisis, and to help raise awareness about the needs of the region’s displaced and vulnerable populations. The past year also marked the start of two new programs at EPIC: PHOTOVOICE IRAQ and the IRAQ MATTERS podcast. Today Gustafson is expanding EPIC’s work to connect and facilitate partnerships between Iraq and U.S. agencies and institutions.


Taif Jany: Program Associate


Taif was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq where he stayed until he finished high school in 2006. In early 2007, Taif was forced to flee Iraq and sought refuge in Damascus, Syria where he lived for almost two years. In Damascus, Taif joined the Iraqi Student Project (ISP), a program that helps war-displaced Iraqi students earn their undergraduate education in the United States. Taif was accepted to Union College in Upstate New York and arrived to the U.S. in the summer of 2008.

In 2012, Taif graduated from Union with a B.A. in Sociology and French and moved to Washington D.C. immediately after. Prior to EPIC, Taif has worked as a legislative intern in the office of Congressman Keith Ellison-MN 05. He also interned at the Arab American Institute (AAI), Congressional Quarterly (CQ ROLL CALL), and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)-UN office in New York.

Living through the 2003 war on Iraq, and witnessing its tragic consequential outcomes, has nourished Taif’s aspirations to fight for peacebuilding, social and economic justice, and human rights advocacy. Taif is dedicated to focus his time and energy on EPIC’s mission to help rebuilding a more peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Iraq.

Alicia Sornson: Intern

Alicia is an International Studies major at Susquehanna University with a concentration in the Developing World and the Middle East. Her interest in the Middle East was sparked by a trip to Israel and Palestine, and she has since been dedicated to learning, exploring and gaining a greater understanding for the complex region and its people.




Julia Uriarte: Intern


Julia is a junior studying International Affairs and Middle Eastern Studies at the George Washington University. Her interest in the region started at a young age and she has spent time living in Morocco and Jordan. She is excited to put her knowledge about the region to good use and expand her knowledge on Iraq at EPIC.





Ruwani Dharmakirthi: Intern

Mardin Turkey

Ruwani is a second year master’s student at Florida State University studying International Affairs, her focus has been on international development and the Middle East. She has studied abroad in Istanbul, Turkey and traveled extensively through Turkey and Lebanon. Since her travels, she is excited to learn more about the region and use her knowledge to help EPIC.




Janet Guo: Grant Writing Intern


Xinyan Guo is a second year Masters in International Development candidate majoring in Human Security at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School for Public and International Affairs (GSPIA). Her career aspirations are to work with children in developing countries, focused on increasing access to education and healthcare. She is currently attending the GSPIA Fall 2013 Global Security and Development Program in Washington, DC.