There are some days that you never truly forget. Those days seem to linger within our subconscious, resurfacing from time to time. Coming up to breath when we least expect it.
For myself, the 16th of July, 2005 was such a day. The weather was a typical Scottish Summers day, the birds were chirping, this would have been a typically unremarkable and uneventful Saturday. That was until I turned on the News to witness that my father had been the victim of a terrorist attack, whilst he was on holiday in Kuşadası, Turkey. The site still haunts me, the walking wounded and that twisted wreck of a Bus which had been targeted by the Kurdish PKK Terrorist group.
An act of terror aimed at killing and maiming innocent tourists, all for the sake of a warped group of misguided fools.
You never expect something like that could happen to you. At that moment, my life had ground to a silence halt, as though silence had consumed my world, the birds no longer made a sound, everything had fallen mute. Except for the images I saw, those people, my father.
In a moment, everything that I held dear had changed. From the thoughts in my head to the very air in my lungs. Life would never be the same again. Even to this day I cannot fully put into words the feelings which consumed me on that Summers day.
All can say is that It was as though everything within me had frozen, and for those moments all that consumed me was a thick, acrid, all consuming hatred for an entire people, for their country, for their faith, culture and everything that they held dear to themselves.
To be blunt, at that moment, I believed they had taken the life of my father and in turn, I wanted revenge.
Fortunately, my father survived the bombing but was injured.
Time changes everything. Nine years later, I would offer the hand of friendship, to Kurds, Iraqis, Turks and Syrians alike. But in doing so, I would jeopardise my career as to help those people. People who less than a decade before I wanted to harm.
Sometimes in our lives we are faced with a difficult choice as to operate outwith our modus operandi, or to continue on regardless. Sometimes we see a solution to a problem that our peers do not even know exist, and to suggest such a solution can be seen as madness by them. To ignore such challenges are easy but an insult to who we fundamentally are.
Back in 2013, I was faced with such a choice. Whilst the Islamic State came into prominence , aid workers were being beheaded by the then expanding, but fairly unknown Islamic State. An ideology that is at a polar opposite to Western values. A cancerous 'death cult' spawned from the twisted mind of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, like a cancer it metastasized from al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) into what we know now as the Islamic State. In some capacity I had to do what I could to help counter this unchecked threat.
As the conflict against I.S intensified, educational budgets were drastically cut within Iraq. Resulting in some schools being temporarily closed leaving some students with periods without an education.
At first, I tried to get support for the Iraqi's as to provide help for education. I contacted almost every university and college within the UK. But no support came, eventually I was faced with a choice, a choice that would damage my hard earned career, and cost me some close friends.
The decision to suspend my career as to follow my beliefs was a difficult choice. As was the decision to gain a better understanding of the security situation by training alongside Private Military Contractors at the European Security Academy.
Although controversial to some, this training was key to my safety, as well as for gaining contacts who'd provide invaluable advice for the projects within Iraq. This was the first time I had military training since I was a 'Medic' (CMT) in the British Army, almost a decade before.
PMC Training at ESA
This was an immensely difficult decision, which was damaging to my career. But, It was a decision that I had to take.
Even though it would initially be an unpopular decision by some who mistook my criticisms of the Islamic State as being 'islamaphobic' and 'Racist'.
It is said that there's only one way to avoid criticism; do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.
The initial goals of the 'projects' were to provide support for Education, particularly with STEM related education as to encourage not only an interest in the Sciences but also help to develop analytical and diagnostic skill-sets.
Those projects would later evolve to include groups, schools, and even orphanages within the Middle East. Focusing on Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Turkey.
The reason for supporting education is simple. Education has the power to change one's own life. It is an act that should be continued throughout our lives. An education is more than having fancy letters after your name, it is something that can change someone's life to not only better their own futures, but to better the lives of their own families as well as their community.
If I could sum up education with one quote it would be this: "A mind without an education is like a building without foundation."
These projects provide bespoke support to where they are running. Before I discuss these projects in more detail, I wish to make a point about them.
These projects will help both Refugees and Locals alike!
From my observations, this is where many Aid groups fail when providing help to Refugee Communities in host nations such as Turkey. You may be wondering why. Let’s imagine that you're living in a poor part of Turkey and suddenly your area has to accommodate many Refugees. Resources were stretched before hand and now things are extremely difficult.
A Foreign Aid group has arrived and are now only focusing on the Refugees, and not doing anything to help you or your friends.
How would you feel? As you can understand it will cause resentment, this is part of the reason why I do not only help the Refugees in Turkey but also poor locals.
The first projects were lessons provided to Schools by various experts from groups such as CERN, and NASA. These speakers would volunteer their own free time as to give a lesson for children within the Middle East, and often host these talks at unsociable hours to themselves.
The first video talk was with Dr Philip T Metzger who retired from NASA, on the subject of Lunar Infrastructure, and Dr Robert Zubrin from the Mars Society.A recording of this talk can be views via the following link : https://youtu.be/tlszuxXH_gU
Those sorts of talks are still ongoing, and have expanded to help others within the Middle East, including students within Jordan and Turkey, and even for young Syrian Refugees within Turkey. All open minds are welcomed at these talks
A talk from CERN for students in Jordan, and Nepal.
Support for classrooms are provided, this is a project where educational materials are supplied to classrooms. These materials vary in scope from simple items such as Pencils and Notepads for fledgling classrooms, to more complex supplies such as Microscopes and Telescopes for more developed schools.
Contents of a bespoke Education package
These support projects have expanded to also supplying books for kids, and even helping to set up a small library for children Turkey, I am hoping to expand this to provide more books and even other small Libraries during the course of 2017.
Refugee kids benefiting from donated books
Onsite lessons are sometimes provided, which provide additional external support for teachers and classrooms. This can be as simple as having an English language speaker who is there to help the students practice English or even someone to help with STEM subject lessons. Plans for the future include art and even lessons for instructors/teachers on how to teach children.
Myself hosting an onsite lesson
From helping the kids on the ground, I found out that some did not own their own Teddy Bear. Although not directly related to education, over 100 Teddy Bears have been supplied to impoverished kids in Southern Turkey. The children there have also been supplies aid for their school
If support can be had, then I will use existing contacts to supply Orphans, refugees, and impoverished children with not only further support for their education but Teddies too.
Kids in Southern Turkey receiving supplies for school.
This is often the first time that many of these children have owned their own Teddy Bear. Although it is not of an educational 'benefit' it is there to provide the kid with some emotional support, at the end of the day they are just kids. It doesn't matter where they are from; they need some joy in their lives.
A further goal is to ensure that the locals take ownership of these projects. As such I've been supporting, and helping to create Science/Education Clubs for students within Iraq, and hope for them to grow their clubs as to encourage others to take an interest in STEM education.
Books are also supplied to various groups and schools. So far I've managed to supply thousands of books to Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Arabic, and Turkish language books can be sourced relatively cheaply on the ground, however English language books are also required, particularly for people who wish to improve their own English language skills
Turkish Language Kids Books.
English Language books, over 1000 of these have been sent over for kids in the Middle East.
Outside of the classroom there are Science Field Trips to places like Observatories, Museums This is one of my favourite projects where kids of all ages are taken to visit Science Museums to Observatories for lessons and a hands on experience
Young Syrian Refugee having her first Astronomy lesson.
Lack of funding and support, have hamper the future of these projects.
I do not profit from any of these projects but I have not received any support from the UK since I've started them. My approach has been unorthodox, and I have challenged groups/individuals who are using the situation to virtue signal but this has cost me support. Some academics who previously cast me as ‘islamaphobic’ when I first talked about the Islamic State, still continue their grudge against my efforts.
The existing projects will continue, some will expand, and hopefully I am able to find some support to continue them. Support is needed, be it from donations, advice or supplies.
My hope is for students from the West to help with collection of educational supplies particularly Text Books, stationeries, STEM equipment, and even Teddies. Speakers from the STEM field/Educational establishments are always welcomed.
Although unusual, I was hoping to organize a Scottish Burns Supper in Ankara, Turkey. This event will promote Scottish Culture, alongside Syrian and Turkish cultures. Combining the three cultures together for one night, and promote our collective different cultures whilst having some traditional meals. Haggis may be supplied but will entirely be voluntary for those who are brave enough to indulge in that Scottish dish.
Unfortunately, I am unable to get help from Scotland, and struggle for funds for this event. I intend to run it but possible near the end of 2017.
Sometimes we need a little help to spark our passion for learning and self improvement. In some way, I am trying to help strike that spark, and also fuel it. Be it if it’s by supplying educational supplies to a School in Syria, or asking colleagues from NASA to host video talks for schools School's in Iraq.
The needs of students in Iraq differ from the Refugees in Turkey. A bespoke approach must be taken with every project, as well as encouraging those involved to take ownership of these projects, and their own education.
The projects are open to everyone who holds an open mind. I do not believe in 'positive' discrimination and run these projects between mixed ethnicities and different faiths. Positive Discrimination is still discrimination, it's like putting lipstick on a pig, it's still going to be a pig not matter how much you dress it up.
The projects take a lot time to organize. They cannot be run without the support of volunteers on the ground, those who help behind the scenes and the Speakers who volunteer their own time. Of which, I am eternally grateful for all who give their time to help with all of these projects.
For longterm stability in the Middle East, at some point in the near future most of the Refugees need to return home and rebuild their country.
For the adults and older students we're organizing activities Educational Workshops giving refugees the skills they need to improve their own employability prospects. As well as take those skills back home with them, when they return to Iraq/Syria as to rebuild their home land.
I mention that point as it the skill shortages over there and in Iraq is hampering recovery efforts. And despite some self indulging politicians, and mistaken charities saying the opposite, it is extremely important that skilled labour eventually returns to their homeland to not only help to rebuild their nations but to also improve it for future generations.
As I write this article, I am more than aware of how some people view the Middle East. There are elements and some groups over there which are incompatible with Western Values, the echoes of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is still being felt today.
I am fully aware of people in the West who are using the Refugee/Migrant situation to further their own agendas and are Virtue Signalling. There has been more than a few celebrities who's own ego's have done more to cause social tensions than address legitimate concerns.
An open dialogue should take place about the mass migration into Europe, without shaming anyone whose opinion differs.
Despite the atrocities of the fanatical I.S, the average, person there wants to do what is good for their own family, just like you or I, they want what's best for their own community and country, again just like us.
But they need help to get back on their own feet. It has been made aware to myself that there is a prevalent feeling of abandonment by the West towards the locals there, the actions of our politicians have caused this. Regardless of politics and agendas, these people need help to get back on their feet, and in time rebuild and better their own Country.
At the start of this article I asked for you to do one thing, and that was to judge me by my actions.
If you'd like to, please feel free to share this article, or donate to these projects at my GoFundMe page. https://www.gofundme.com/education-for-kids-in-turkey-2017
The costs for this are relatively low as most of the projects are partly funded. A further break down of costs are on that page. Money beyond that goal will go towards funding future projects.
Thanks for reading this Blog .Hopefully a first of many articles that I post on #Minds
In the next few weeks I plan on writing up an article focusing on my criticism of the UK's Foreign Aid Budget, its ineptitude, borderline corruption, as well as hitting out at various charities and their approach of guilting people to support.
However, I wont be leaving those who've attacked people for their opinions, and used the current crisis to further their own gain such as politicians, Academiam and vacuous celebrities such as Lilly Allen may also mention!
I will do my best not to hold back my punches. Let me know if this could be of interest to the community here on #minds
tags: #Iraq #Education #STEM #Syria