IIE Blog Opening Minds
IIE Blog Opening Minds

We Are the Lucky Ones: A Partner’s Reflections on the IIE-SRF Forum

By: Nick Sabato on Tuesday, May 31, 2016

On Friday, April 29th, I sat in the rear of the 12th floor banquet hall at IIE’s New York Headquarters, humbled to be a part of the 2016 Scholar Rescue Fund Forum, "Scholar Voices and University Action." Surrounding me were highly accomplished individuals from education, human rights and government sectors, paired with persecuted scholars from all around the globe, each with a story to tell and a profound determination to make an impactful change.

Samir speaking during the IIE-SRF ForumI looked up at the panel with pride, watching Samir*, a linguistics and translation scholar from the University of Mosul in Iraq, with whom I have been working for the last two years, describe the impact of ISIL on academics. In recounting his personal experience, his humanity, passion, and resolve were infectious, as evidenced by the captivated, nodding heads around the room. Some knew firsthand of the fear and danger he has experienced; others simply wish to be a part of IIE’s effort to address this urgent need.

I smiled, recalling the first time I heard Samir’s voice on the phone, nearly two years ago. It was Thanksgiving morning in 2014, and he had landed in the United States with his wife and three children after months of internal displacement, fleeing danger across northern Iraq. My colleagues and I at Ball State University had been corresponding with him through the Scholar Rescue Fund staff, attempting to balance the urgency of increasing safety concerns amidst the necessity of immigration protocol.

His arrival on U.S. soil represented a milestone and our team quickly mobilized to provide a warm Midwestern welcome. I’ll not soon forget the smiles on their faces the first time we met, nor packing up my vehicle with their belongings to move them into their housing on campus. I vividly recall sitting in a local diner with Samir for hours learning more of his story, a poignant account that cannot be captured in application documents, and I remember being genuinely spellbound by how he and his family can be the embodiment of grace and sincerity after experiencing such horror.

Nick Sabato and Samir outside IIE headquartersNow, nearly two years later, I look around as Samir confidently addresses the Forum participants. He eloquently and passionately uses this opportunity as a call to support all those still under ISIL control. He pauses, gazing over the crowd, the silence deafening; “My friends, we are the lucky ones.” I am overcome by emotion, a mix of heartbreak for those that still experience persecution and pride in being a part of such a program that lends a platform for Samir’s voice to be heard. For his voice, and the others around the room, are the catalysts for bringing about the positive change this world so urgently requires.

*Samir is a pseudonym. The scholar has chosen to remain anonymous due to security reasons.

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For more than nine decades, the Institute of International Education has been at the forefront of international education. The Opening Minds blog is IIE’s take on how this field continues to change. Here the Institute’s leaders will explore international educational exchange, global student mobility, institutional partnerships, international development, and other topics and trends that are shaping higher education around the world.


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