Child Unit 1 Graduates! – May 2017

Child Unit 1, known to everyone else as our daughter Michela, just graduated from Duke University with a Masters in Public Policy! Boom! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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Say yes to the dress

As adults, you date and if you are SUPER lucky you meet someone special and then get married.

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If you are SUPER SUPER GINORMOUSLY lucky you start having kids. Holy Crap! Your life goes ass-over-teakettle in the blink of an eye!

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Who doesn’t melt with those baby girl eyes? And Michela was cute too!

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Life moves on. As mature adults, we wanted to make sure we lead by example, demonstrating by example a level of maturity and sensibility.

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Will she be an extrovert, an introvert?

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It matters not. That she be happy, healthy and fulfilled is all we care about. However, along the way we have tried to influence that happiness by introducing her to a few good men.

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And of course we teach our kids to avoid unnecessary risks. Right.

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Michela graduated with her MPP (Masters in Public Policy) from the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. You go girl!!

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As background Michela worked in various capacities throughout her undergrad education that parlayed into some invaluable experience. She wanted to gain some international experience, and flew to 3rd world Ghana in Africa for several months where she taught English and AIDS education under, at best, modest accommodations.

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Also during her undergrad experience she performed an internship with the Peace Corps and ultimately was accepted into the Peace Corps! While she chose not to follow this path, it was a great credit to her skills, communications abilities and passion as this is a very discerning and prestigious program to receive acceptance. Many apply, few are chosen.

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Again as part of her undergrad education she created an internship with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in Atlanta where she was a Policy and Communications Analyst in the Division of Global HIV/AIDS. This internship grew into a part time job, and ultimately to a full time job where she worked for a number of years.

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Never content, she felt her career required a higher level of education to achieve her goals and applied to a number of top-named graduate programs (of which she was accepted to Johns Hopkins, NYU and others) but chose the program at Duke University’s Sanford School for her masters in public policy.

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If you are a parent you will understand our, how do I say this, abject fear, when she told us that for her 1st year Duke summer intern program she was going to northern Iraq for three months, about 50 miles from ISIS fighting in Mosul, and work with Yazda, an NGO (non government organization).

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She flew into Erbil and practically had to drive through Mosul to get to the camp where she would be working. I think you know how accommodating ISIS would be to a young white American female. Again as parents, we weren’t too worried because, after all, if she had to escape she could go east into Iran, north into Turkey, or west into Syria. Right. No worries.

The Yazda organization works with Yazidi refugees (Yazidis can best be described as an ethnic, religious minority) who in Iraq (and Syria) have suffered at the hands of ISIS. Late in 2014, ISIS brutally attacked the Yazidis living in Sinjar Province in northern Iraq, where thousands of Yazidis were executed, women and children were raped, tortured and enslaved, and an entire community of families were driven from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

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Photograph Rodi Said/Reuters

While there she lived in Yazda’s women’s center with Yazidi women who had been enslaved by ISIS and escaped. Most of the refugee families were living in a huge tent compound. Let’s keep in mind that temperatures were handily over 100 degrees, drinking water was only available in pudding cups, there was no air conditioning, no plumbing (a hole in the ground was the toilet), and electricity was only available a few hours per day.

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From Michela’s own writings at the time… “You can see smoke from the fighting in Mosul from one of the camps we work in. I can’t even imagine how scary that must be for the people living in the camp who have already fled from IS one or more times. Apparently there was some sort of party for the political leaders in our town the other day and they put on an unexpected and unannounced fireworks display, which freaked everyone out. Some of the women who have already fled a war zone told us that they were up all night after that and that their kids were sobbing. Regarding the smoke, our office/my house (where I spend most of my time) is an hour from Mosul and shouldn’t be immediately affected by the fighting. That being said, we’re all monitoring the situation closely and have a contingency plan in place…

Yet despite these conditions she led Yazda’s first refugee resettlement program, to help Yazidi refugee families create documentation for resettlement into Australia, a country that was accepting refugees. Michela personally (with a translator – so language was yet another challenge) interviewed 350 families in this process.

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Can you imagine listening to these incredible heart-wrenching stories of unimaginable horror, day in and day out? Of course, nothing matches what these poor people have experienced. But to listen to these families share these stories I can’t even imagine. At the end of the day, you would have to laugh to stay sane, and dear friends and colleagues Adiba Qasim and Hasan Matarok supported Michela – we love you both, thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and wish you and your families the very best.

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Michela and Adiba

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Hasan

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Hasan helping us chop wood at Christmas – he had to earn his keep!

As part of Michela’s second year efforts at Duke, she conducted research on the refugee situation and presented her analysis to the FBI’s Counterterrorism group in Quantico, VA. Entitled The US Refugee Resettlement Program: Is it Equipped to Deal with the Unique Needs of Syrian Refugee Children Re-Settling in the U.S, Post-2011, her professor thought it was good enough that he has recommended she get it published!

Well, we couldn’t be prouder of her. For the moment, here are a few shots from our visit to see her, attend graduation ceremonies, and celebrate her new milestone.

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Graduation dinner

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Celeb selfie with Coach K.  When you go to Duke, what else?

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Where does she head next? We are unsure. What we are sure is she will be successful wherever her unique skills, intellect, passion, and compassion lead her. We love you Michela!

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