In the Heat of the Iraqi Summer a Volunteer Makes a Difference

 Alyssa with some students from her dance class. 

Alyssa with some students from her dance class. 

In the beginning of August, I spent 10 days in Iraq during which time I had the opportunity to teach art, reading, and dance classes at the Greater Change center. During my time there, I was also blessed to be able to do outreach with a few of the other members of my team by going and visiting families in the camp; we visited two families who had recently lost sons, one to infection and one to suicide, and a girl who escaped from ISIS captivity in April. We used these meetings as opportunities to evaluate the specific needs of people living in the IDP camps and discuss what paths Greater Change might be able to pursue to meet those needs. For example, a suicide outreach program, a general healthcare education program, and ways of helping girls recently returned from slavery were topics we were able to begin to consider based off these visits. 

Having the opportunity to teach classes at the Greater Change center in the camp was very rewarding for me. In my art class, I enjoyed getting to see each student's unique way of approaching a project, and I felt like that class in particular afforded me the opportunity to get to know the kiddos on a more personal level. My favorite project we called "What's in Your Heart". They each drew a heart on a piece of paper and then inside the heart drew things that they love. At first, there was some hesitation, but as they thought about it, the kids drew everything from families, to sports, to school, to music...Each one was individual, and I enjoyed getting a chance to catch a glimpse into their "hearts". We also had a day where we discussed how we can use color to demonstrate the emotions we are feeling. As a class, we assigned each color an emotion or an idea and then I had the students color pictures using shades that represented the emotions they feel on a daily basis. Profoundly, as a class we had assigned green the emotion of hope and the idea of new life, and green was the most commonly used color that day.

 Students display their "Heart" Art. 

Students display their "Heart" Art. 

Being a dancer, my favorite class to teach was, of course, dance. Dance and movement is something that goes beyond the realm of spoken communication, so having the opportunity to be able to effectively communicate with the kids despite the language barrier was a tremendous blessing for me. I also feel that movement is something that is universally understood; for example, no matter what part of the world you go to, people use hand motions to emphasize or aid understanding. Because movement is universal, dance is a natural extension of that. Having those moments where I felt like I was successfully communicating with the kids even though I couldn’t speak their language was thrilling. I also was very impressed by how quickly every single one of them picked up the concepts of guided movement and technique. Many of them had tremendous natural talent, and it was a joy to me to be able to guide them in nurturing that talent even if for a short period. I believe that dance can be of tremendous therapeutic benefit, both emotionally and physically, and teaching dance in the IDP camps confirmed that certainty in my mind.

Another highlight was having the opportunities to go visit the families in the camps. Though these times were hard, I appreciated them greatly; they allowed me to gain a better understanding of what these people are enduring and how we might be able to help them. Getting to visit a girl who recently escaped from ISIS was absolutely incredible despite it being extremely hard; she is so beautiful and sweet. The progress we saw in just two days with her was amazing, but she has a hard road of healing and recovery ahead of her. After everything she's been through, I believe that loving and gentle interaction is important in helping her heal.

I honestly never believed I would love any place as much as I love my home in the States, but within 24 hours of being in Iraq, I knew I had been mistaken. The peace that I believe can only come from God came almost immediately, and I fell in love with the people, the work, the culture, the landscape...everything. In the strangest and most unexpected ways, it felt like home. This trip was so amazing and eye-opening; far beyond the words I have to describe it. As an American, of course I’ve heard about the wars and hardship in the Middle East and in Iraq, but often it is easy to dismiss them to the back of my mind. However, being there, meeting families, working with the kids, talking to people from all sorts of backgrounds, and seeing firsthand the struggles of these people, helped me understand the importance of the work that Greater Change is doing. The war may be considered over for now but the road to recovery is a long and difficult one, and Greater Change is seeking to find ways to make sure that these people are not forgotten and to help them begin to heal. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to serve in Iraq, and I was beyond blessed by the many opportunities I had to learn and grow in the field. I truly believe in the work Greater Change is doing, and I pray that we will continue to be able to educate and empower the people in the IDP camps. Thank you to all of the people who support us both financially and in prayer; we could not continue to do this work without you.

Alyssa Dancing.jpg