My mom bought me my first pair of tap shoes when I was five so that I could release my pent-up energy in a productive, artistic manner instead of banging pots with a spatula in my kitchen. Fast-forward to the present, the nascent stage of my adult life, and I still find myself in a dance studio when I need to find moments of clarity. Dancing has been my Great Escape since childhood, and it also led me to EPIC.
Allow me to back up and explain. I went on to become a pre-professionally trained dancer, but decided to pursue a traditional college education at Vanderbilt University majoring in International Cultures and Politics. Although I was no longer studying dance, I wanted to help other kids find that same therapeutic outlet, whether it be creative or athletic.
That quest led me to Ecuador in the summer of 2013. I interned with Manna Project International, a nonprofit that empowers developing international communities through hands-on learning and service. At my site, I was concerned by the lack of electives or team sports offered to kids, since those activities were so special to me in my childhood and beyond. With my years of training, I was able to create a curriculum and then initiate a dance program at Manna’s local center. The consistent high turnout at the bi-weekly ballet classes and the gratitude from the kids and their parents showed me how important it was for them to have a fun, creative outlet in their lives.
After graduation, I wanted to begin my career working in a hands-on environment that generated concrete, cataclysmic changes. EPIC satisfies these requirements, and it emphasizes two great passions of mine: Iraq and the Great Escape.
While I have always been interested in international affairs, my fascination with the Middle East developed rather recently. This past spring, I took a political science course on the Iraq War, and my professor served as a social scientist in Iraq while counterinsurgency operations were implemented. Hearing her personal experiences about her time in a war zone resonated with me in ways that reading a traditional academic text could not. These stories left me wildly curious about unanswered questions that lingered after the war, like how had high-value targeting evolved over the course of the conflict? I researched this topic for the remainder of the semester, and along the way became fascinated with Iraq’s history and politics.
After spending the spring studying this question, I discovered that three major transformations had occurred that improved the success of high-value targeting operations. First, better intelligence allowed Special Forces to broaden who they were targeting to include specialists as opposed to only political leaders. Next, the collaboration of high-value targeting teams with Iraqi forces and with other American entities allowed joint efforts to reach unprecedented levels of success and efficiency. Finally, the shift in the way that the teams treated Iraqis ensured the greater protection of civilians, less collateral damage, and the preservation of targets’ dignity, all which prevented fueling hostilities towards Americans.
I found my niche in research. Not only does EPIC provide this opportunity via the Iraq Security and Humanitarian Monitor, but it also works on a variety of humanitarian aid projects with partner organizations. The project that strikes a chord with me is Soccer Salam- not because I am the next Pelé, but because it provides the Great Escape to kids in Iraq who need it the most.
Iraq is currently facing a terrible humanitarian crisis. 7.8 million people need access to health services, 4.1 million need access to water sanitation in hygiene, and 4.4 million need food assistance. 45% of all of these people are children. While Soccer Salam delivers emergency humanitarian aid to displaced families, what makes it unique is that it also delivers soccer balls to the kids. Please consider contributing to the cause here. These kids deserve a chance to play.