All posts by Joanna Fisher

Helping War-Affected Children in Iraq

Millions of children in Iraq have suffered incomprehensible loss and trauma in the decades of conflict. An alarming number of these children have lost parents and are living on the streets. According to a recent survey reported by the BBC: “between 800,000 to a million Iraqi children have lost one or both of their parents.

Iraq’s former Minister of Human Rights Wijdan Salem Mikhail explains, “The phenomenon of orphans “is one of the most passive things that grew immensely during the past few years due to destructive wars and unbridled violence in the country.”

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EPIC’s Top 10 Things We’re Thankful for in 2012

It is Thanksgiving today in the United States.  A time for reflection, family, and saying thank you.  Here at EPIC we have had an especially monumental year, and we wanted to highlight some of the things for which we are thankful.  It was a difficult task, but we narrowed it down to the top 10 things we are thankful for in 2012.  Thank you for reading, and we hope you have a wonderful holiday.

No 10: TEDx Baghdad, Erbil, Baghdad Youth, and Baghdad Women. These opportunities for Iraqis to share innovative ideas provide such an inspiration to us.

No. 9: Iraq’s leading environmental conservation organization, Nature Iraq, for all they do to restore & protect Iraq’s natural heritage & their amazing role with our Iraqi Youth Hike!

No. 8: The right to vote and those who have sacrificed for others to have that right from Selma to Baghdad.

No. 7: The Iraq national football team for their winning teamwork & ability to unify the country! Next stop: the U20 World Cup games in Turkey and then Brazil in 2014. 

US Embassy in Baghdad
US Embassy in Baghdad

Diplomacy in Iraq-Without the Fortress

Recently The New York Times Magazine published an article about the bunker-ing of United States embassies in conflict-zones.  In it, Robert Worth describes the changing face of American diplomacy; one that is becoming more focused on security.  “Security has gone from a marginal concern to the very heart of American interactions with other countries”,Worth explains.

Prudence Bushnell, former ambassador to Kenya, says “The model has become, we will go to dangerous places and transform them,and we will do it from secure fortresses. And it doesn’t work.”

Diplomacy is, without a doubt, dangerous work, as the recent tragic death of Libyan ambassador J. Christopher Stevens demonstrated. The investigation into his death along with three other Americans in Benghazi begins today.  NPR’s Morning Edition had an interview with former U.S.ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker.  Crocker explains that diplomats must act as reporters and understand the countries in which they work.  He points out that they are working in dangerous places at a dangerous time, but it is necessary to take some risks for the sake of bettering the future of these countries.   


TEDxBaghdad 2012

Since 1990 TED conferences around the world have been inspiring innovation through engaging talks on a variety of topics.  Over these last two decades the TED universe has continued to grow and in 2011 3,200 TEDx events took place over 126 countries in 42 different languages.

In October the fantastic TEDx Baghdad demonstrated the innovation and creativity coming out of Iraq.  In November three other TEDx events will continue this trend with TEDxErbil, TEDxYouth@Baghdad, and TEDxBaghdadWomen.

On October 22nd the second annual TEDx Baghdad was held at the Al-Rasheed Hotel focused on the topic “The Beginning Begins”.  Speakers came from a diverse range of backgrounds and included artists, youth activists, diplomats, and environmentalists. Videos can be watched of many of the sessions

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The Tigris River Flotilla Project

This is the second part of my conversation with Virginia Tice of Nature Iraq and the Nature Iraq Foundation and the second video in our series “Partners for Change” highlighting people and organizations making a difference in Iraq. If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to watch the first part of our conversation to learn more about these fantastic organizations.

Here we  focus on the Tigris River Flotilla Project, a journey down the Tigris River from southeastern Turkey to Iraq.  The trip will use traditional boats in order to bring awareness to the multitude of threats facing the Tigris and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Mesopotamia.

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Environmental Stewardship in Iraq

This video is the first in our new series “Partners for Change” where we highlight people and organizations making a difference in Iraq.  We will be featuring conversations with other change-makers in the coming weeks.    We are excited about this series and the great conversations which will follow!

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Virgina Tice, the CEO of the Nature Iraq Foundation (NIF) and attorney for Nature Iraq.  Ms. Tice spoke about how she became involved with advocacy in Iraq, environmental issues facing the country, and the projects of the NIF. Nature Iraq is the first and only environmental conservation group in Iraq.  It is an Iraqi organization and is accredited to the United Nations Environment Programme.  The NIF is a U.S.-based public charity that provides support to Nature Iraq and other organizations working on environmental issues in Iraq and the Middle East.

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Final 48 Hours

Last night we had the opportunity to bring together some of EPIC’s friends and supporters for a reception kicking off the last 48 hours of fundraising for PHOTOVOICE IRAQ:Picturing Change. The event brought together educators, scholars, advocates, and practitioners to support EPIC’s mission.

Michael Albin and Erik share a laugh at the event

The same sentiments were repeated throughout the night: student-centered projects like this are what the youth of Iraq need now, small-scale development can have the greatest impact, and that photovoice has the power to teach a range of much-needed skills. Over twenty passionate support were in attendance at this intimate spontaneous reception to rally support for PHOTOVOICE IRAQ:Picturing Change. People at the event were excited and engaged about the project, and conversation went late into the night.

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Practicing Photovoice

Today in the office we decided to try an activity.  We practiced photovoice for ourselves to see what impact it can have on both the photographer and an audience.  Photovoice, when done correctly, is a multi-step process involving discussions, skills training in photography technique, practice writing captions, and debriefing at the end of the exercise. The method takes at least eight weeks and leaves students with skills in photography, writing, and communication.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go through this entire process so we are practicing an abbreviated mini-photovoice exercise.

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Why Crowdfunding?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”

-Margaret Mead

This quote has been adopted and shared by organizations of nearly every kind.  I once lived in a house where it was scrawled on a napkin and taped above the sink as a plea  to do the dishes.  When I was teaching high school history I kept it written on the board for weeks, egging on my students to ask for examples of when a small group of people had actually changed the world.  (For the record I had no trouble answering this question, but more importantly, nor did my students after a few weeks). It is a somewhat overused quote because it is true.

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The Power of Education

What does it mean to empower youth?  What effect can great teaching have on a young person?  How are communities improved when young people feel as though they are making an impact?

These are questions that go to the heard of EPIC’s mission, and in recent years, an important part of my life.  As a high school history teacher I constantly questioned how my classes could help my students understand their communities, but more importantly, how my students could help improve their communities.  I developed and implemented student-centered curriculum focused on current events, sustainability, and the actions young people could take to improve their worlds.

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