Abdullah Alshawk '15, Iraq, believes with his whole heart that the best weapon against terrorism is education. Coming from a place where bombings are part of daily life, he speaks with authority.
"People in my community are worried that kids will grow up without going to school," he says. "There will be more illiteracy, and that means there will be more terrorists."
According to Abdullah, the Islam State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has caused some 2.4 million people to flee to refugee camps across the region. Schooling has been disrupted, leaving children's learning in the hands of committed volunteers who conduct classes in make-shift classrooms. Some of these volunteers are Abdullah's friends.
"My friends are engineers. They teach math and physics. It's very risky, and there aren't enough school supplies," Abdullah says.
To help meet the need for supplies, Abdullah is raising money for his "Education for Peace" project to purchase school bags for refugee children in Iraq. So far, he's been able to provide 185 bags to students. He hopes to do more.
"From my experience of living in a conflict area like Iraq, I found the majority of terrorism comes from uneducated people. How? Most of the uneducated people have problems with finding jobs; terror organizations look for these kinds of people and offer them a fair salary [in exchange for] work," he explains. "The majority of uneducated people come from the poor class. They come from families who can't offer their children the opportunity to go to school, even though education is free in Iraq, however other things are not. Therefore, they pull their children out of school so they can raise some money to sustain the family."
Abdullah was born into war. In 1994, Iraq was under siege, and his father was earning the equivalent of $3 a month. It was barely enough to raise a family of five children. When war with the U.S. broke out in 2003, the family endured daily bombings. Abdullah says he was nearly hit twice.
"Ninety percent of the people in my country have been impacted by bombs. Everyone knows someone who has been killed," he says.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, life improved. The economy grew, and Abdullah's family became financially secure. However, physical security remains elusive.
"When you leave your house to go to school (two miles away) you worry you won't come back," he says.
Abdullah's family lives in Babylon. Even though their home is in the middle of the city, the streets are unpaved. They only have electricity five or six hours every day. Still, it is home, and Abdullah has a deep love for his country.
"Being here [at UWC-USA] has made me feel even more connected to my country," he says.
He won't be going back soon, though. Abdullah will graduate from UWC-USA in May, and hopes to stay in the U.S. for college.He was recently named by the school faculty as a Davis-Mahindra Scholar, an honor given to four international second-year students every year in acknowledgment of their leadership, motivation, and potential. Abdullah plans to study mechanical engineering and aerospace science. His goal, he says, is to return to Iraq and work toward improving the country's infrastructure.
"I would love to help my country more right now, but I have to focus on academics," he says. "I'm trying to get the best education I can so I can give more country more."