Support Peace in the New Year

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As the founder and director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), I am writing to ask you for your continued support.

Please consider making an investment in EPIC this holiday season with a year-end tax-deductible contribution toward our work to empower young people for peace in Iraq.

Right now, the situation in the region is dire. Syria’s civil war has forced millions to flee, including 200,000 refugees seeking safety in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. At the same time, millions of Iraqis remain displaced and that number is expected to grow if steps are not taken to curb the escalating violence.

Since 1998, our mission has remained the same: to promote peace in Iraq. Yet with all of the challenges facing Iraq today, advancing that mission is not easy. It requires hard work and perseverance. And for us to sustain that effort, we need your help. We simply cannot do it alone.

That’s why we embarked on an ambitious plan to use new media and crowdfunding to grow the EPIC community here at home and to bring our mission directly to young Iraqis – young people who can bring peace to their nation. Today I am pleased to highlight some of the progress that supporters like you are helping to make possible:

  • PHOTOVOICE IRAQ: Picturing Change, a research and youth empowerment project with Iraqi college students.

    AUIS students at the launch of Photovoice.
    AUIS students at the launch of Photovoice.

In partnership with the American University of Iraq – Sulaimani (AUIS) and George Mason University, we are Picturing Change with AUIS students, including young men and women from the provinces of Baghdad, Sulaimani, Erbil, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Babylon. Using cameras and written reflections, these vibrant young people are exploring social issues that are important to them. By looking at Iraq through the eyes of these young people, EPIC is discovering the Iraq that they know; the Iraq that they have grown up with. And in doing so, we are gaining insights into how our advocacy and field work can more effectively address their fears and support their aspirations.Through the continuation of Picturing Change in the New Year, EPIC is exploring opportunities to expand the program to involve more young people, including Syrian refugees, Iraqi migrants, and other vulnerable populations.

  • Fact-finding missions to Iraqi IDP and Syrian refugee camps in Iraq
    KOWERGOSK, IRAQ ©2013 Jacob Russell, www.jacobrussell.virb.com
    KOWERGOSK, IRAQ ©2013 Jacob Russell, www.jacobrussell.virb.com

    In late summer and early fall, EPIC visited four of the largest Syrian refugee camps in Iraq. We also met with urban-based Syrian refugees and Iraqi migrants. Based on those visits and interviews, we commissioned the freelance journalist Cathy Otten and photojournalist Jacob Russell to report on conditions that urban-based and camp-based refugees are facing in Erbil and Sulaimani. That special report, Out in the Cold, documents the humanitarian challenges of assisting Syrian refugees as they prepare for what is already turning out to be a very harsh winter. Out in the Cold is part of a new initiative by EPIC to support better coverage and in-depth reporting on displaced and vulnerable populations in Iraq and the region.You can read the full report and see photos at Out in the Cold.

  • IRAQ MATTERS: an EPIC podcast of ideas, news & conversations
    Kirk Johnson, image source.
    Kirk Johnson, image source.

    On August 6, EPIC’s impressive team of young interns launched our first podcast. More than 3,000 downloads later, the IRAQ MATTERS podcast is going strong, allowing us to serve and grow a community of support for Iraq’s peace and development.Today the EPIC team released Episode 9: Making a List and Checking it Twice, featuring the story of Kirk Johnson and The List Project, an organization working to protect Iraqis who are in danger as a result of their work or affiliation with the U.S. mission in Iraq. Our latest show also includes an update on Congress’ decision to extend the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for our friends in Iraq (an important development that went largely unreported by the media, but not by us).

    You can catch our latest show and subscribe to our podcast via iTunes or Stitcher.

  • Putting Iraq back on the agenda through Washington DC-based advocacy

This year, EPIC pressed the Obama administration and Congress to do more to support peace, diplomacy, technical assistance (especially related to good governance, civil society, and education), and humanitarian action in Iraq and the region. Our petition on Change.org has gained more than 8,000 signatures, and we are seeing positive steps from Baghdad and Washington, including the first meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki in nearly two years.With escalating violence and ongoing governance problems in Iraq, not to mention millions of war-affected Iraqis who remain vulnerable, EPIC’s top advocacy priority in the New Year is to reverse the dangerous trend of cutting U.S. support for critical sectors of Iraqi society that – if sufficiently empowered – can contribute to lasting peace and prosperity in Iraq and the region. You can sign and share our petition at: iraqmatters.org

EPIC is focusing our work on empowering the youth of Iraq – young Iraqis like Hawre, Farah, and the other participants of PHOTOVOICE IRAQ – because they are the leaders of tomorrow. More than anyone else, these young Iraqis will determine their nation’s future.

This holiday season, give the gift of peace. Please support EPIC with a generous year-end donation as we invest in the power of youth to bring peace to the world.

Erik K. Gustafson

About Erik K. Gustafson

Erik is EPIC’s founder and director. As a U.S. veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, Erik has devoted his life to humanitarian action and empowering youth in support of Iraq’s peace and development.