English for Iraqi IDP Teens

In Iraq, AMIDEAST is helping young Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) improve their English language skills, while also introducing them to aspects of American culture. A group of bright teenagers from Mosul recently completed an English training program offered through the English Access Microscholarship (Access) Program, a highly successful U.S. Department of State initiative that offers disadvantaged youth worldwide the opportunity to improve their English language proficiency and learn a variety of other skills that can pave the way to educational and job opportunities in the future.

The need for this program was clear. At least half of school-aged IDPs from Mosul lack access to formal education, and the programs that do exist are heavily dependent on resources provided by the UN and NGOs. 

In November 2015, AMIDEAST, in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy and Department of State, launched an Access Program in Erbil. AMIDEAST/Iraq Country Director and staff travelled to camps in and around Erbil to interview and select 75 academically gifted young learners between the ages of 13 and 17, based largely on their communicative ability and their eagerness to learn English. 

Most of the students fled Mosul with their guardians and families, many with just the clothes they were wearing and small personal items. They were among the fortunate in the camps to be enrolled in school, but due to crowding and a serious lack of teachers and resources, the Access Program represented a huge opportunity. 

The students were selected from four different IDP camps outside of Erbil and brought to AMIDEAST twice a week for English classes and lessons on American culture and history — and an opportunity to experience life outside the camps, even if only for a few hours at a time. 

Samah, the Access class valedictorian, described her feelings the day of her interview. “I was nervous, but I knew I wanted to study English. And straight away, the teacher made us relax,” she recalls in her now nearly fluent English, thanks to the rigorous English language training offered during the 18-month Access Program. 

Samah benefited from the program in other ways, too. “I met other people and became more confident."  She adds that the best parts of the course were the teachers and the cultural excursions.  "I really liked how the teachers were relaxed and kind, and helped us learn by playing games, working in teams, and taking us to new and different locations." 

The future for these students is uncertain. They don’t know when they will be able to return home and, even then, what their homes will look like after more than three years of conflict and occupation. 

But Samah, like many other young students, recognizes that strong English language skills will increase her chances for better opportunities and a brighter future. In these uncertain times, the critical skills acquired through the Access program represent a positive step forward—a lifeline in the waves of conflict. 

"Because of the situation, I don't know what I will do with my English,” observes Samah, quickly adding, “I would really like to come back to AMIDEAST to study English even more!"