Fond Memories of Kurdistan
Children, Teachers, Families, Friends, KOMAK, and Karwan
Amanda Clinton’s Adventure in Kurdistan
To answer your question: Yes! I often asked myself, “How did I end up planning a trip to Kurdish Iraq?!” My mother, father, sister, best friend, and colleagues similarly asked me, “What are you thinking, an American girl traveling to Iraq?!”
Now that I have been to Kurdistan, I answer my question by simply musing, “Why did I wait soooo long to go?!” That is, of the many places I have seen in the world and the many people I have met around the globe, Kurdistan and the Kurdish impacted me the most.
The 10 days I spent in Kurdistan were full of work, energetic professionals, darling children, interesting sites, good food, and the development of lifetime friendships. After two days of travel, beginning in San Juan, Puerto Rico, passing through New York City and Copenhagen, and finally arriving in Hawler, I arrived to meet Asos Shafeek of the Ministry of Youth and Sport, Lawen Redar, a Kurdish-Swedish student visiting Kurdistan for two weeks, and Karwan Aref of KOMAK awaiting me. (Alas! My suitcase remained in Copenhagen!)
If you know Karwan, it won’t surprise to hear that, although I had not slept for nearly two days, I was immediately whisked away to Kirkuk to talk to KOMAK teachers. This first exposure to Kurdish professionals inspired me greatly and gave me lots of energy to help me overcome my fatigue. The teachers asked important questions related to their work and demonstrated the warmth and sincerity I soon came to recognize as a characteristic of the Kurdish people.
From Kirkuk, the whirlwind adventure of work – as established by Karwan and Asos, “the men who never rest” – began. I was fortunate to travel across many parts of Kurdistan and visit schools and meet teachers and children in cities as diverse as Ranya, Sulemanyia, Hawler, Dohuk and Koya. I perceive the teachers I met as individuals who are dedicated to making changes of great depth and breadth in education so that the country can progress in a positive direction, ultimately establishing democracy and improving the lives of its citizens.
My presentations to educators addressed methods for effective teaching. Research has shown that human beings learn best when information is well organized, when it is presented in context, when the information to be learned is clearly emphasized and later reiterated, and when opportunities for guided practice are provided. Using examples including the geography of the Kurdish region and an English lesson about parts of the human body, I had the opportunity to model the aforementioned method for teachers and children alike. Of significant importance was the three-day workshop that I conducted with teachers hailing from various cities and towns in Kurdistan. During this workshop, we had the opportunity to explore more profoundly the instructional techniques that I had presented and for teachers to practice using them in a simulated classroom setting.
The children of Kurdistan, like the adults, are among the friendliest, most eager to learn, and most generous that I have known anywhere in the world. One highlight of my presentation in Dalalan was the chance to interact with students while they studied English. In Kendekewe, three young girls gifted me and the teachers present at the workshop a song they sang about sharing. Wherever and wherever I had the opportunity to know Kurdish children, they smiled, offered hugs or candy, and demonstrated the desire to show me how much English they could speak. It was a cultural exchange that touched me deeply.
The teacher training program received very positive feedback from the educators who participated. Many expressed feeling that the methods they learned during my talks and the workshop would be highly useful to them in their work and shared an interest in further study about teaching methods. Thus, a summer institute, sponsored by KOMAK and the Ministry of Youth and Sport is currently being organized. Our goal is to invite teachers to attend a week-long seminar that includes information about instructional methods, behavior management strategies, and more specific subjects, such as working with children of different ability levels. I, for one, am extremely excited about this project and believe it will be a tremendous success!
I cannot share about my time in Kurdistan without mentioning the very dear friends and families who I met and rapidly came to love. First, of course, I must mention the great honor it was to work with Karwan Aref of KOMAK, who turned out to be my long-lost brother and who I will always admire, respect, and adore! I now have my own home in Kandakawe with Sabah and Maryam! Mohammed and Kazhal were incredibly generous, opening the doors of their beautiful house to me, taking me shopping at the fancy market, and always making me laugh. Khaled and Toba allowed me to visit and even welcomed a whole group of us to celebrate the new year together. Without the support of the Ministry of Youth and Sport, particularly Asos Shafeek, the Director of Education, Taha Bewary, the Minister of Youth and Sport, and Shayda Mstafa, Asos’co-worker, many of my meetings and presentations would not have been possible. My voice while in Kurdistan, that is the person who helped me know others and know this amazing country, was my dear friend Halgurd Salh. An inspiritation for me and women of all parts of the world is Rupak, my friend from Kandakawe, as well as dear Lawen, from Sweden.
There are many more people I would like to thank, but suffice it to say that my heart belongs to Kurdistan and thank you, thank you, thank you (!!!) to all of you for sharing in the amazing, life-enriching experience I enjoyed in your wonderful country. I hope to see you again soon!