Virginia Commonwealth University
 
Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program Visit

Iraqi students volunteer in Richmond’s East End

Malikah and students

Iraqi student Dlveen says goodbye to the PPDC students, including Malikah (right).

“I have a best friend,” said Malikah, a 10-year-old student at Peter Paul Development Center (PPDC) in Richmond’s East End.

After only four meetings with Dlveen, Malikah clinged to her arm. Along with 24 other Iraqi students, Dlveen visited VCU for the month of July as a part of the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP), a program funded by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Dlveen agreed with Malikah about their new friendship. “I believe this is the best place in the universe,” she said of PPDC, an outreach and community center serving youth in Church Hill. “I’m really glad I got to help these kids.”

Annually, the VCU School of Mass Communications offers the selected IYLEP students academic coursework in social media studies, and the VCU Global Education Office leads the students on local trips and coordinates volunteer opportunities at locations like PPDC.

The group spent four Friday afternoons at PPDC with elementary-aged students sharing Iraqi culture, participating in dialogues, and simply acting like kids.

“All I knew about the U.S. was from the movies,” said Dlveen, an information technology student at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani. “When I came here, everything was different.”

She explained her misunderstanding of socioeconomics in America.

“I didn’t believe that I would find people that didn’t have the ability to buy a book for their children.”

She and the group generously collected funds to give the center to pay for two days worth of lunches for the students.

During their third visit, they brought the PPDC students to VCU for a tour, and treated them to cake and gifts.

Salim and students

Iraqi student Salim (second from right) is surrounded by students from PPDC.

“I got to see their dorms and the library, said Jennelle, a 10-year old at PPDC. “Iraq is a good country. It’s important to learn about different countries and to try to speak their languages.”

“They have pretty clothes in gold and red, and the men look better than American men,” she insisted.

During their final visit, the students broke into groups for discussions led by facilitator Jacquelyn Pogue of Richmond Action Dialogues. Sitting around tables, the students from around the world shared ways they have overcome problems in tough situations.

“We tend to think of people being so different, but then there are some common threads in humanity like suffering, pain, loss and joy that all of these young people have in common,” says Reverend Lynn Washington of PPDC.

“[The partnership] allowed the urban children to think of the world in a bigger way and to allow them to know that they are a part of a bigger world, and that’s invaluable when your world is often limited to five miles.”

Before saying goodbye, the younger students shared their appreciation with handmade cards and speeches.

“Iraq is awesome,” Jada read aloud from her card. “Thank you so much for this awesome summer you gave me.”