“In Baghdad before the invasion,” Sara Saba’a remembers, “everything was quiet and normal. I went to a high school for bilingual students with high marks, and we could go out—go for midnight rides even—and everything was safe. After the invasion, we had to stop everything and always be [veiled]. We had to stay at home and there was only waiting, waiting, waiting.”
Finally, fearing for their lives, her family fled to Syria, along with more than a million others. According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about 2 million Iraqis have left Iraq, mainly going to Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. These refugees have limited access to housing, food, education, work, and medical care. Saba’a was able to finish high school in Damascus but couldn’t afford the high cost of university for non-Syrians.
“Sometimes I got angry and confused, but you couldn’t just sit down and cry. The whole family tried to find ways to be stronger,” she says. Then in 2007, Saba’a found her future—a lifeline to a university education through the Iraqi Student Project (ISP).
Co-founded by Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak, the ISP grew out of their desire to help rebuild the Iraq they had grown to love while working with the organization Voices in the Wilderness during Iraq’s period under U.N. sanctions. Modeled after the Bosnian Student Project sponsored in the 1990s by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Jerrahi Order of America, the ISP convinces colleges and universities in the U.S. to grant tuition waivers—and sometimes full scholarships—to Iraqi students. The intent is that the students will return to help Iraq once they complete their undergraduate educations.