‘Child of war’
Pasha will return home and help rebuild
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
Pasha drew on his own experiences as a child of war to
reach out to other University
By Elizabeth Kiem
When U.S. troops invaded Iraq last year, Rebeen Pasha, an Iraqi Kurd, was
glued to the television. Pasha’s interest and concern, shared by many, were more
direct and personal than most of his peers. He was watching an assault on the
regime that he says murdered his father in 1992.
Eight years later, Pasha, a member of one of the world’s
largest homeless minorities, found a temporary home at the University of
Virginia. Here, he has
combined his interdisciplinary major of politics, anthropology and health
evaluation sciences with his own life experiences.
Photo/Wide World Photos
statue of Saddam Hussein (above), head of the regime that Rebeen Pasha
claims murdered his father, was toppled in downtown Bagdhad on
April 9, 2003.
Pasha’s father was a member of the Kurdish opposition that rose up against
the Hussein regime in 1991, only to be overrun by Iraqi troops fresh from their
defeat in the Gulf War. The elder Pasha was shot by gunmen on his doorstep in
Suleymania, a city within the U.N.-sanctioned “safe haven” zone.
The traumatic event was followed by years of civil strife as rival Kurdish
factions struggled for power, but Pasha’s family did not abandon their home until
Pasha has returned to Suleymania only once, in 1999. Now he wants to
return for a closer look, specifically at the health legacy of Hussein’s 1988 chemical
attack against the Kurds, which was estimated to have killed up to 150,000.
of the chemical bombs are really going unnoticed,” Pasha
said. “It’s only recently, with the war, that missions
are slowly going there and trying to evaluate the people and see
Pasha’s commitment to his ethnic community has not eclipsed an interest
in his new home and peers. In his four years on Grounds, he participated in Student
Council, Amnesty International and the U.Va. year book; he served as a resident
adviser and a student member of the Board of Visitors Selection Committee; and
he was a Lawn resident, a member of the Pre-Med Society and a spokesperson for
Pasha said his most emotionally engaging activity was the “Children of
War” program, in which U.Va. students who share a war-torn childhood convey
their experiences to other students. Pasha has taken part in all three annual
panels and served as the organization’s president.
very movingly,” recalled Children of War sponsor, Professor Michael
J. Smith. “He has tried to stay true to his core beliefs,
raising doubts about the capacity of war to solve deep problems.”
Pasha has been accepted to graduate programs at the University
of North Carolina and at Columbia University.
focus has been given to refugee populations,” he said, “and
the [study of the] effects of forced migration and post-traumatic stress disorder … is
also a new thing. There was some research being done on the Vietnamese refugees
and Cambodian refugees in the 1970s and ’80s, and then it
Eventually, Pasha plans to follow his master’s degree in public health
with medical school. In the meantime, he wants to use his academic experience
to “help rebuild the public health system” in his homeland.
It’s a goal that his adviser Smith lauds: “What’s most important
[about Pasha] is his commitment to learning and placing his experience of war
into a framework of scholarly understanding.”