Local veterans start nonprofit to aid Syrian refugees
WASHINGTON — Three U.S. military veterans, including two from New Hampshire, have launched a project to provide children living in Syrian refugee camps in northern Iraq with much needed school supplies.
More than 220,000 Syrian refugees are registered in these refugee camps in Iraq, according to TentEd, which was started by veterans Zack Bazzi, Patrick Hu and Scott Quilty.
TentEd is working to raise money for the Syrian children who have been uprooted by the violence in their home country and are now living in crowded camps just over the border in Iraq.
“There are a lot of organizations working on the ground to make life better for these kids,” Bazzi said, but this is an unmet need, a niche, TentEd can fill.
Bazzi, who is originally from Watertown, Mass., was an army veteran attending the University of New Hampshire when he joined the New Hampshire National Guard, leading him to serve in Iraq in 2005.
He left the National Gu-ard in 2008 and graduated from the University of New Hampshire.
He now splits his time between Manchester and Washington, D.C.
While at UNH, Bazzi became friends with Quilty, who is originally from Francestown. In 2006, Quilty was badly injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Hu is originally from New Jersey and served as an officer in the Army for eight years. In 2007, Hu and Bazzi became friends while both were serving in Afghanistan.
Late last year, Bazzi went to Northern Iraq to work for a local development firm as a program consultant.
“I was having a pretty good life,” Bazzi said, living in a fairly stable and peaceful part of Iraq.
In his free time Bazzi did volunteer work at a nearby Syrian refugee camp, he said.
“I observed the big stuff is being taken care of, food, water, shelter,” he said. “However, I did walk around the camp, talking to families and camp leaders and I noticed many children were going to school without basic school supplies. … I started talking it over with Scott and Patrick and the three of us decided we wanted to do something about it.”
The project is sponsored by the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, a Washington, D.C. — based nonprofit organization that has worked for the past 15 years to promote civil society in Iraq with a focus on helping young people.
Bazzi said Quilty has been a huge inspiration to him in starting TentEd.
“This is a guy that has every reason to have nothing to do with Iraq,” Bazzi said. “He stepped up and he has been the intellectual architect of this thing.”According to Quilty, “I ended up, quite literally, giving an arm, a leg and nearly all of my blood to a land and people that I hardly knew. … When I got home, I signed out from Iraq, focusing instead on recovering and starting a family. But I knew one day that I would be drawn back. When I heard from Zack about the conditions in the camps, it seemed like the right time to re-engage in Iraq.”TentEd has already raised more than $10,000. Bazzi plans to return to Iraq in June with the money to meet with students, teachers and aid workers to determine the needs and then purchase the school supplies from local suppliers.
Shipping the school supplies into Iraq would be too expensive and this way the project also stimulates the local economy, Bazzi said.
All donations to TentEd through EPIC are tax-deductible, he said.