Nerary Yousif Fund sends Assyrians to homeland

ADM Illinois honors late Assyrian activist, works with GISHRU to build new bridges to Iraq and Turkey

March 2019 | By Joe Snell | Photos contributed

CHICAGO — In honor of late Assyrian activist Nerary Yousif, the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) of Illinois Sector has launched the Nerary Yousif Fund. The annual scholarship works together with the non-profit organization GISHRU to pay for the travel of an Assyrian to visit Iraq and Turkey.

Yousif, who passed away in November of last year, was born in Chicago and studied history and Biblical archaeology. In 2009 he traveled to Iraq and began working closely with the global Assyrian community in politics and advocacy for both democracy and human rights in the Middle East.

“It’s critical to exemplify a nationalist who was born and grew up in the diaspora,” said ADM Illinois Sector Director Alex David. “He went back to the homeland and saw what’s needed out there, came back here and brought some of that back here in his work, in his activism.”

Alex presented the scholarship idea to the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) Illinois Sector Committee in November and proposed working with GISHRU because it is critical, David says, for kids from here to visit the homeland just as Nerary did when he was a young student. “They can see the reality of things and then come back here and apply what they saw.”

The fund was formally announced at Nerary’s 40 day memorial.

GISHRU is a non-profit organization established in 2012 that organizes annual trips for Assyrians born in the diaspora to visit the ancestral Assyrian homeland.

“His activism was rooted and cultivated by his visit to Assyria,” said GISHRU Board Member Joe Danavi. “Through this scholarship in his namesake, many more can similarly experience the awakening that Nerary and many others have had when visiting their homeland.”

This year, GISHRU vetted student applicants and presented ADM Illinois with three candidates. These candidates were then requested to write a short paragraph on why they should be considered for the scholarship. ADM Illinois Sector members reviewed the applications and announced the winner in March.

The fund, roughly $2,200 in total, covers one candidate’s airfare, board, food, and miscellaneous travel expenses. David hopes that ADM Illinois will be able to sponsor more than one individual in the future.

“The crisis we are facing is we increasingly transition towards a predominant diaspora nation where our rising and future generations become disconnected from the homeland,” Danavi said. “This scholarship provides a solution to our financially burdened college students who have an interest to connect with their homeland but cannot afford to.”

The first recipient of the fund is Tanya Odisho, a Medical Student at Michigan State University. She was selected because ADM Illinois Sector Committee members felt she will come back home and continue applying herself in her community.

“I really want to be inspired by other people that are going on this trip,” Odisho said. “It’s one thing to say that we’re raising awareness and teaching people about the Assyrian culture, heritage, and genocide that has been going on, but what are we really doing to help the people back home?”

Moving forward, ADM Illinois and GISHRU will continue to work together on the scholarship annually to help build a bridge to the homeland.

“This is exactly what we want to keep in terms of his memorial,” David said. “Somebody that goes to the homeland, comes back and starts activating themselves, starts working for that cause.”

To learn more about ADM Illinois, visit their Facebook Page.

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