Personal Stories Stories from Kurdistan

One Man’s Mission to Help Refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan

rise foundation

The story below was written by Tom Robinson, Director of Rise Foundation. Based in Iraqi Kurdistan, Rise Foundation works to create better lives for refugees and IDPs who are fleeing the various conflicts in the region. Rise is kicking off a campaign to help clothe and feed refugees and IDPs in the coming winter months.

Why I Help Refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan

by Tom Robinson

I have always had an interest in the Middle East, both academically and physically. I studied International Relations at the University of Kent, after which I attended Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (military college in the U.K.) to train as an army officer, but eventually decided against a career in the military.

After Sandhurst, I traveled and worked in a few countries as a teacher and with humanitarian organizations. I spent time in Egypt, Palestine and South Korea. Returning to the U.K., I decided to do a Masters in International Relations and Diplomacy, writing my dissertation on humanitarian intervention at Reading University in England.

Going to Kurdistan

By the time I had graduated, the war in Syria had started, and the displacement in Syria and Iraq was beginning. I packed up and went to Iraqi Kurdistan because the little semi-autonomous state seemed to be right in the middle of things, and politically, it fascinated me.

The challenges facing Kurdistan are what attract me to the region — the conflict against ISIS, and the political issue of disputed areas between Kurdistan and Iraq. Not to mention the ethnic divides!

The Origins of Rise Foundation

Once on the ground, I started off by running a few volunteer projects, supporting refugees outside of camps who weren’t receiving any help from NGOs.

When we started doing a couple of projects in the actual camps, I soon saw that there was a big gap between the larger, well-funded and well-coordinated international NGOs, and the smaller, adhoc, and less transparent local NGOs.

I wanted to bridge that gap by producing something that was transparent and well-coordinated with professional staff while being as flexible and community-based as the local NGOs. So, I and two others created the Rise Foundation, and officially registered it as an NGO in Iraqi Kurdistan.

rise foundation

Rise Foundation volunteers helping refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Fondness for Kurdistan

That was well over two years ago, and we have developed from a small, volunteer-based, grassroots organization to a professional, well-coordinated, and targeted assistance organization – working throughout the country, often in hard to reach areas.

My two original colleagues have since left, but after a while, I have come to feel a strong attachment to Kurdistan and the Kurdish people. The openness and hospitality is second to none, and when you find the time to get out of the urban areas, the countryside and mountains are beautiful.

I have also grown particularly fond of the community feel of Ankawa, which is where we are based. As with anywhere in the Middle East, I have a love-hate relationship with it as there are still some restrictions and intolerances that are hard to deal with. But I’m still here!

Kicking off the Winter Campaign

Rise is now focusing on targeted support for the most vulnerable populations. Although funding is down and the war against ISIS is close at hand, we are launching a big winter campaign to help refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The winter campaign will provide support to hundreds of refugees– particularly orphans– who are living in remote areas and receive no support from others. Winter here is surprisingly harsh and we want to assist those most in need as much as we can in good time.

Read more, and donate to the Winter Campaign here.

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