Middle East meets Midwest

By Dick Brummel

Baghdad and Atchison will meet this fall in the person of Humam alMukhtar, an 18-year-old Iraqi refugee. He comes to the U.S. to attend Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas as a participant in the Iraqi Student Project (ISP), a non-profit organization committed to the rebuilding of his war torn nation. Humam will bring his ancient culture to the U.S. with the help of many representatives and friends of the ancient Benedictine monastic tradition which has strong routes in the Atchison area.

The Iraqi Student Project (ISP) describes itself as “a grass-roots effort to help young people who have studied in Iraq acquire the education they need to participate in rebuilding their country. To this end, ISP seeks the help of American colleges to offer these students that which the United States does very well: excellent undergraduate education.” ISP brings together qualified students and willing American communities. The students live in Iraq or have sought refuge elsewhere in the Middle East and would otherwise be unable to attend university. In the Middle East, ISP identifies qualified students and sees them through the processes of university admission and application for a student visa to the United States.  Stateside, ISP seeks out universities willing to provide tuition waivers for the students and helps local support groups whose task it is to provide all other financial, emotional, etc. support. The local groups are 100% volunteer.

The project was begun by Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak who retired to Damascus after careers in publishing and education. They and their stateside supporters are committed to overcoming the massive destruction in Iraq (including an education system that the Chronicle of Higher Education has described as “near collapse.”) and sharply limited immigration and scholarship opportunities in the U.S.

Humam alMukhtar currently lives in Damascus with his parents and younger sister. He was sent there from Baghdad three years ago when his parents began to fear for his safety amid the violence in his hometown. In addition to his participation in the Writers’ Workshop in Damascus which helps students applying for American universities improve their English skills, he volunteers with the  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to do translation.

In Atchison, the project has been made possible through the leadership of the Benedictine community. Benedictine College has waived tuition for Humam for his four years there. Led by the Monastery of Mount St. Scholastica, the Abbey of St. Benedict in Atchison and the Monastery of St. Scholastica in Fort Smith, Arkansas have stepped forward as major donors. Benedictine oblates from Mount St. Scholastica and faculty and students from Benedictine College have also joined in the support effort.

The Support Group in Atchison is currently busy with the many logistical activities related to setting up a college student for his first year on campus. Every need from winter clothing to the arrival greeting at Kansas City International Airport are being identified and volunteers sought to help. Even though the major donors have been very generous, there still is a substantial gap in the budget for Humam’s needs.

Anyone wishing to donate money may send their tax deductible gift to:

c/o Mr. John Gioia

6332 W 100th Ter
Overland Park, KS  66212

For more information on the project or to volunteer, contact:

Sister Thomasita Homan,
Mount St. Scholastic Monastery
801 South 8th Street
Atchison, KS 66002-2724


If the internet is your preferred source, the national staff of ISP has a website http://iraqistudentproject.org/ and the National Catholic Reporter recently published a very informative article about the first ISP class to arrive in the U.S. http://ncronline.org/news/global/one-small-thing-we-can-do .


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