Dooreh, Iraq – After hiking the jagged mountains of Hakkari in northern Iraq, once an area serving as the north Assyrian frontier, and visiting an ancient Saint George church that dates back to the early years A.D., participants of the inaugural Etuti Institute’s Leadership Program were greeted by one of the village elders in Dooreh with a photo exhibition. The display, which included a collection of old and new photographs, showcased Assyrians fighters on the famous mountain range, religious leaders of the past, and Assyrians living through the genocide.
The exhibit was one of many activities at this year’s leadership program, held March 9 through 12 in Dooreh, which provided workshops and volunteer activities for Etuti’s many organization partners.
“We wanted to make an annual event where all of our volunteers can gather, all of our sponsors, all organizations and supporters who work with us,” said Savina Dawood, co-founder of the Etuti Institute. “Then we decided to do it each year in a village of ours that holds a meaning to us and that has a story for us.”
The program was kicked off on Thursday with an introduction by the Etuti Institute as well as a presentation on the importance of volunteering. After the presentation, the group divided into two teams, with one team traveling to a church in the village and the second to renovate the church hall. The hall is used by the village across events from weddings and funerals to larger social gatherings, but had issues with lighting, air conditioning, and having enough seating for guests.
“They can use it for anything now,” Dawood said. “The whole village uses it for everything. During the winter it was not very useful and during the summer it wasn’t very useful because it was very hot, but not anymore with the air conditioning we put. They can use it all the time.” The renovations also included adding lights as well as more chairs and tables.
Despite their electricity being cut off every evening, the program’s participants continued activities by using the light on their cell phones. A highlight of the second day’s activities included a seminar on leadership by Dr. Heja Sindi of Irbil, who stressed the importance of communication skills before a larger conversation about youth empowerment.
Planning for the event began in the beginning of February when Etuti sent invitations to some of their partners around the world including organizations in Germany, France, Syria, Lebanon, and the United States. The cost of the entire event was $7,075 and included food and supplies for each participant as well as supplies for the renovation projects.
Although no location has been selected for next year, during the last night of the program the volunteers were asked where they would want the event hosted and three locations were chosen. Later this year, one of those three choices will be announced as the 2018 host village.
“The key is to choose a village where there are people,” Dawood said. “We cannot go to a village with only three families, it’s not going to work, it has to be a village where the youth are existing.”
Included in the roughly 50 participants that came and went throughout the weekend were thirty volunteers and around ten to twenty individuals each day from the village. Most participants were between the ages of 18 and 25.
The event was free for participants thanks to a sponsorship from L’Œuvre d’Orient , a French organization that focuses on education, care, and action across the world but primarily in the Middle East.
Currently the conference is only open to Etuti volunteers, sponsors, and individuals that work with the organization, a decision that Dawood says is important to rewarding those members that are leaders in their communities.
“The reason why we are limiting it to people involved with us is because we are putting too much effort and so much value into this and we want the serious people to receive it, people who really care,” she said.
The group decided on hosting the conference near the end of March to align with the Kurdish new year because the government allows time off work.
The Etuti Institute was formed in 2013 to aid displaced individuals by providing necessities as well as creating educational programs to develop the Assyrian youth. Dawood emphasized the organization’s unique challenge of teaching leadership in a place like Iraq.
“Leadership is controlling and dictating, that’s the understanding of leadership in Iraq because the only leader they had for more than 30 years was Saddam Hussein,” she said.
Etuti’s current mission is to bring the youth together to build generations of new leaders in the Homeland.
“The whole concept of Etuti [Leadership Exchange Program] is generations of leaders,” Dawood said. “We want to generate leaders and we want to push the existing ones or to help and support them. Through this program, we can connect between cities and villages, connect our ideas and connect our thoughts together and understand leadership in general.”