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‘Child of War’ to graduate May 16
U.Va. Student Rebeen Pasha Intends To Return To Iraq And Help Rebuild Country’s Public Health System

May 7, 2004 -- When U.S. troops invaded Iraq last year, University of Virginia student Rebeen Pasha 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, an Iraqi Kurd, 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.

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 1996.

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.

“The consequences 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 long-term effects.”

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 diversity awareness.

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.

“He spoke 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. He said he is particularly interested in programs that focus on the mental-health implications of forced migration.

“Not enough 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 stopped.”

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.”

Contact: Kathleen Valenzi, (434) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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