Forming Friendships Between Iraqi and American Women - Mary's Pence

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Forming Friendships Between Iraqi and American Women

A group of Iraqi and American women stand together, some with their arms around one another.

Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP), is a first time Mary’s Pence grantee based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The organization highlights the need for two cultures to come together as friends. Since 2005, IARP has been creating bridges of communication, understanding, and support between the people of Iraq and the United States.

The IARP board is a mixture of generations, experiences and genders. I sat down with Interim Deputy Director Erin Hart and Executive Director Kathy McKay last month to talk about IARP and the reconciliation of Iraqi and American cultures.

Sister Cities: Minneapolis and Najaf

With the goal of opening communication between the people of Iraq and the United states; the City of Minneapolis became sister cities with Najaf, Iraq. President Eisenhower started the Sister City Project in 1956, “Eisenhower envisioned an organization that could be the hub of peace and prosperity by creating bonds between people from different cities around the world. By forming these relationships, President Eisenhower reasoned that people of different cultures could celebrate and appreciate their differences and build partnerships that would lessen the chance of new conflicts” (Sister City International).  Another reason the Sister City project exists, is to help dissipate fear of other cultures and people.

One of the opportunities that IARP gives to opening communication between Iraqi’s and American’s, is finding hosts for Iraqi people who come to America. These Iraqi people do not have homes for themselves yet or are just visiting. The Iraqi people who come to America are from all over like Najaf and Bagdad. The people from America from the twin cities or the suburbs. The people who participate are a mixture of professionals and retirees. 60 Iraqi professionals have been hosted by American people in the time since IARP was formed. IARP’s humanitarian side funds hygiene kits and water filters for the people in Iraq.

Iraqi and American Women’s Friendship Groups

One week after President Trump announced the Travel Ban in January of 2017, IARP announced their idea to organize a woman’s friendship group at a community gathering. Since then, a group of 12 women, 6 women of Iraqi culture and 6 women of American culture have been meeting once a month. They made the commitment to meet together for at least a year. The meetings take place in homes, public parks, or somewhere everyone is comfortable. Most recently they visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art for a tour and lunch. At first the conversations centered around introductions and the basic questions the women wanted to know about the other culture. Now, the group discusses whatever topics come up.

I asked what surprised the women the most about each other. Food is very important in Iraqi culture. Erin and Kathy explained that no matter the event, the Iraqi women always had snacks and tea. When it came to sharing dishes, the women did not fall short. At picnics there would be a multitude of delicious Iraqi dishes including sweets, tea, salads, chicken and rice, and much more.

American women also learned that Iraqi women are very educated, but their education is not recognized in the United States. Also, language barriers make it difficult to find jobs. This isolates Iraqi women to their homes. Another point of discussion is that most Iraqi people are reluctant to come to America. They come to America because they are escaping rogue militia or their lives are in danger. Iraqi people also assume that all American people are rich and live lavish lives. They quickly realize how untrue that is once they arrive to the states.

The grant Mary’s Pence has given IARP will go towards the creation of another women’s discussion group; within the Iraqi and American communities.

Birds Sing Differently Here

Many of the ideas for programs that IARP organizes come directly from the Iraqi community itself. During the month of November, IARP held a production called “Birds Sing Differently Here”; which portrayed the variety of experiences of Iraqi people of different ages and genders. The play gave Iraqi people a chance to tell their story; while also engaging the public to better understand their neighbors. It gave the chance to see Iraqi people as human beings.

IARP is important to the community around Minneapolis because it helps Americans have a better understanding of real Iraqi people, instead of the stereotypes of terrorists on TV. IARP hopes to have and create long lasting healthy effects on the community after teaching others about Iraqi people.

Take Action Toward Reconciliation

I asked Kathy and Erin about some actions Americans can take to participate in the reconciliation between Iraqi and American people.

They gave me very simple actions:

  • Greeting people and asking them how they are to start conversations that lead to friendship and understanding of one another
  • Help with the humanitarian aid programs for education and empowerment
  • Host visiting Iraqi’s
  • Send a letter of Peace

Learn about these opportunities and more at the IARP website.

Participating in these actions, it tends to the social fabric of the world.


-Written by Ruth Rike, Communications Intern Fall 2017

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