U.S. combat veterans return to Iraq’s war zone on a humanitarian mission for Syrian refugee children
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Three U.S. military veterans have launched a special project to support the tented schools in the Syrian refugee camps in northern Iraq, sending the former soldiers back to Iraq’s battleground—this time with a mission to save a generation of children lost to Syria’s ongoing civil war.
Zack Bazzi, Patrick Hu and Scott Quilty started TentEd to raise money for displaced Syrian children who have been uprooted by the violence in their home country and are now living in crowded camps across the border in Iraq. More than 220,000 Syrian refugees are currently registered in Iraq.
The project will support schools in the Domiz and Gawilan refugee camps in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, a semi-autonomous region that borders Syria, Turkey and Iran.
The project is sponsored by the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization with a 15-year track record of helping youth and promoting civil society in Iraq.
“Investing in durable solutions for Syrian refugees is critical for peace in Iraq and the region,” said EPIC Executive Director Erik Gustafson, a U.S. Army veteran of the 1991 Gulf War. Gustafson has visited the camps and said TentEd can make a critical difference.
“We are really excited to get behind Zack Bazzi and a new generation of veterans who are furthering our mission through TentEd,” he said.
Bazzi, who left the Army National Guard in 2008, volunteered in the Syrian refugee camps in Iraq last year. He saw children attending class without school supplies and teachers instructing class without basic education material.
“This may seem like minor stuff, but taken all together, it adds up and directly impacts the quality of the education experience that each child receives,” said Bazzi, who was a soldier in Iraq in 2005 with the New Hampshire National Guard. “We want the kids to get the message that someone cares enough to provide even the most basic of school supplies such as a notebook or a backpack.”
A former soldier from Watertown, Massachusetts, Bazzi knew that to help this “lost generation” of Syrian children, he’d need to rely on his professional training in the military, using a small team of agile specialists to tackle a big problem.
“Our military background certainly helps with planning and inspiration, but ultimately this is about doing something to make life a little better for these kids, even if in the big picture, this may be small scale stuff,” he said. “The three of us are in a position in life to be able to help out, so we figured why not? The support from our veteran friends has been broad and overwhelming.”
Hu, who served as an officer in the Army for eight years, met Bazzi in 2007 in Afghanistan. He didn’t hesitate when Bazzi approached him to help.
“I have always known him to care about making tangible contributions, so when he told me about his desire to affect education on Syrian refugee camps, I knew I could get behind his work,” said Hu, who is from HOMETOWN. “Syrian refugees face very tough challenges that could dramatically impact the rest of the world. TentEd will increase awareness about their situations and let the refugee children know that there are people thinking of them.”
Quilty, from Francestown, New Hampshire, was wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006.
“I ended up, quite literally, giving an arm, a leg and nearly all of my blood to a land and people that I hardly knew,” he said. “When I got home, I signed out from Iraq, focusing instead on recovering and starting a family. But I knew one day that I would be drawn back. When I heard from Zack about the conditions in the camps, it seemed like the right time to re-engage in Iraq.”
TentEd is raising money for the schools, taking direct requests from the teachers and school administrators instead of organizing to send supplies, which would be prohibitively expensive to get there. The trio is trying to raise $27,000 before June 10 when Bazzi intends to return to Iraq. So far, TentEd has raised about $5,000.
Bazzi said he knows the challenge of raising money for refugees in a conflict that many Americans have tuned out. But he is committed. All donations to TentEd through EPIC are tax-deductible. See: http://www.epic-usa.org/whatwedo/tented/
“Basic needs such as water, food, waste removal and electricity are already being provided by the host governments and aid organizations in the camps that we visited,” Bazzi said. “Our focus is on the provision of basic education supplies, a need that is not being fully met.”
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For additional information or to schedule an interview, contact:
TentEd Project Director and U.S. Iraq War veteran
zack [ dot ] bazzi [ at ] gmail [ dot ] com
Erik K. Gustafson
EPIC Executive Director and U.S. Gulf War veteran
ekg [ at ] epic-use [ dot ] org
+964.(0)750.161.9401 (in Iraq until May 8)
+1.202.604.7413 (after May 8)