Veterans help fill gaps in refugee school projects in Iraq


CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A nonprofit group with New Hampshire roots is putting a new spin on back-to-school shopping by helping equip 10 classrooms for refugee children in Iraq.

TentED was created in 2014 by three U.S. Army veterans, two of whom met as student at the University of New Hampshire. Rather than starting from scratch, the group works with existing educational aid programs to raise money and deliver what it calls “last mile” essentials, such as school supplies, bus transportation and recreational activities.

The group has funded about 15 projects in the past two years in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and is partnering with an organization that is building a new school for more than 250 children. Construction started in May and is expected to be done in the next four weeks in time for the fall term, said Billy Ray, Middle East director for the partner organization, World Orphans.

“These kids have got to get back into the routine of school and learning,” he said. “The scarring has to stop, and this is our chance to roll back the years that ISIS has stolen from them.”

During emergencies — whether natural disasters or manmade conflicts — education gets overlooked, TentEd co-founder Zach Bazzi said. But he argues that approach could result in entire generations of children growing up without basic literacy and critical thinking skills.

“You don’t want people starving or going without water or shelter, but I’d also argue that education needs to be up there,” he said.

Bazzi served in the Army and Army National Guard from 1997 to 2008 and later worked as consultant and volunteered in refugee camps in Iraq. When he returned to the U.S. in 2014 for graduate school, he teamed up with Scott Quilty, a fellow UNH graduate and Army veteran who lost his right arm and leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq. TentEd’s third co-founder is Patrick Hu, an Army veteran Bazzi met when both served in Afghanistan.

All three have day jobs. Hu is a market researcher at AT&T Mobility in Atlanta; Quilty heads MedScribes, a medical staffing company in Durham and Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina; and Bazzi is the Middle East manager for a nonprofit called Spirit of America and is based in Washington, D.C. He frequently travels overseas to implement TentEd activities, identifying and responding to specific needs.

“We don’t build schools, we don’t design schools. We’re simply a rapid, efficient, responsive funding platform,” he said.

For the current project, the group is trying to raise $12,500 to outfit 10 classrooms with desks, whiteboards and other materials. Ray said that amounts to about 5 percent of the overall school construction budget, but he greatly appreciates Bazzi’s help.

“It feels like he’s one of our cheerleaders, and really an advocate for us,” he said. “He’s basically crowd funding for our projects, and that’s just cool.”

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