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Kurdistan: Opportunities for a New Generation

IBB is funding grassroots projects designed to inspire, educate and upskill youth to heal communities and create a new future for Iraqi Kurdistan.

Dalia Rasho: Future Leaders Training Program, Sinjar

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As a teenager growing up in Sinjar, Dalia Rasho witnessed the atrocities of the 2014 genocide, when thousands of members of her community were killed, tortured and enslaved by Isis. Now 23, she wants to help her people heal and protect them from suffering in the future. “I decided not to focus on my own misery. Instead, I want to help people become active members of the community because the more leaders we have, the stronger we will be,” she says. Rasho has launched the Future Leaders Training Program to run a series of lectures that teach Yazidi youth how to make a positive impact on the lives of others. “Once these young people realize that the core of success is something that can be learned and mastered, nothing will stop them.” With an Ideas Beyond Borders Innovation Hub grant, she has hired professional trainers from Mosul to run the sessions and inspire the next generation of young change-makers in Sinjar. “We need this to have a normal life again in our devastated community,” she says.

Safa Hamami: Houjret Al-Qira’a Library, Sulaymaniyah

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When Safa Hammadi first volunteered at the Deir Mariam Al-Adra Monastery in Sulaymaniyah, the children’s library was a dark, depressing place. Working with the Heartland Alliance International Organization to facilitate reading lessons for children, she decided to refashion the space and create a bright, welcoming environment to inspire young minds and fuel a love of books. “We know how important education and reading is for our children, especially those who are facing many difficulties and losing a lot of their rights, they deserve to have a space which is comfortable and full of pleasure,” she says. Ideas Beyond Borders has awarded Hamami an Innovation Hub grant to restore and develop the children’s library, serving many young refugees and families displaced from around Iraq. Hamami wants this to be a place they can be safe and happy, but also empowered. “I want to change people’s concept about the importance of reading and give children their right to have free time and spend it how they want.”

Walat Salih, Kurdshop, Kurdistan

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Walat Salih is concerned for the future of his people. After observing attempts to dilute Kurdish culture across the region, he launched Kurdshop, an online platform that celebrates Kurdish culture through television programs covering their history, language and traditions. “Countries don’t want people to know about Kurdish traditions because they are afraid that people will stand up and say we have a language, culture and history, why are we under your flag?” Despite being one of the largest ethnic groups in the Middle East, accounting for 20 percent of the total population in both Turkey and Iraq, and 10 percent of the total population in both Syria and Iran, the Kurds have long been sidelined, their demands largely unmet by central governments. “Throughout our history, enemies have attacked us and one of the first things they target is our language,” he says, pointing to the omission of Kurdish from school curriculums in Syria, Turkey and Iran. Kurdshop also runs Kurdish language lessons for children and Salih is using an Innovation Hub grant from Ideas Beyond Borders to ramp up program production and improve the Kurdshop website for a growing audience. “We have to show this to our children and say that’s our history, that’s our art, that’s our land and everything about us. It’s very important we pass this to the next generation.”  

Diyan Gawdan, Theatre Publishing House, Kurdistan

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A famous song by Kurdish nationalist artist Sivan Perwer was the inspiration behind 25-year-old Diyan Gawdan’s new project. In the song Halabja, Perwer sings about the 1988 chemical weapons attack that killed 5,000 people and injured many more in the city, exhorting listeners to tell stories rather than take up arms. “He sheds light on how much can be done by storytelling and begs people to start writing,” says Gawdan, who shares this faith in the power of words to make an impact. Her new online publishing house, launched with support from an Ideas Beyond Borders Innovation Hub grant, will invite writers to share their projects and ideas, offering support and guidance to help people pursue their creative ambitions. “Social acceptance of careers in the arts is still in process in Kurdistan – the local community only values careers related to STEM subjects,” she explains. The Theatre Publishing House hopes to help change this by providing a platform for young writers to launch their literary careers.

Ideas Beyond Borders Book Booth, Kurdistan

Kurdistan Book Booth

Whether for knowledge, pleasure or simply to pass the time, reading is the simplest and most powerful of gifts. Ideas Beyond Borders is working to spread this message across Kurdistan to inspire and empower a new generation of students with the value of books. Last November, we hosted our first Book Booth events at three universities across Kurdistan, distributing 1,600 volumes to students in Sulaymaniyah, Duhok and Erbil. Hundreds of young people crowded round tables piled with volumes, selecting from a range that spanned many genres to showcase the scope for exploration and education found beneath the page. “By providing books for free, the students were able to experience the joy of reading and discover new topics and perspectives,” says Halbast Abdullah Karim, acting library manager at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimaniyah. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Many reported that the books have been a source of inspiration while others commented that they encouraged them to read more.”

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