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Groton to Erbil: A Different Perspective
Posted 02/15/2017 01:00PM

Students video conference with teenagers in Harsham Camp, Erbil, Iraq

Groton, MA -- These days, it's not unusual for teenagers to video chat, through FaceTime or Skype, with friends sitting across campus, in another state, or even halfway around the world.

Today was a little different, as Lawrence Academy Human Geography students video conferenced with teens living in Harsham IDP & Refugee Camp in Erbil, Iraq.

Through the Shared_Studios collective, founded in 2014 with the support of the United Nations, students were able to learn -- firsthand -- what life is like in a place normally only seen on the nightly news.

"This group was really unique," said History Chair Kevin Wiercinski, thinking of previous uses of the school's Media Conference Center. "We had a series of four young -- boys really -- that were 15 to 17 years old.

"They exactly mirrored our population.

"I think that was what really resonated with our students," he said.

Maybe so, but the situations the two sets of children find themselves in could hardly be more different. One set of youngsters is located on the bucolic hillside of a New England prep school campus. The others, well, they are not.

Shared_Studios portal in Erbil is located in northern Iraq, and hosts 1,500 internally displaced Iraqi families who fled Mosul and surrounding families.

"Erbil is the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan Region, which hosts around 1.5 million internally displaced Iraqis and almost 230,000 Syrian refugees," explains the Shared_Studios website. "Our Portal in the camp is based in a converted water pumping station [and was] made possible by UNICEF Iraq and Terre de Hommes."

None of this was lost on Mr. Wiercinski and his team.

"Seeing what they were [doing]. Seeing, literally, the room that they were sitting in. Us in the space that we were in, and them talking to us in the space that they were in - the contrast was stark," he said.

And, clearly, that contrast drove home a point.

"But again, we've been talking about a number of these issues they're facing," added the longtime LA history teacher. "And then to put a real face on it is, something that's really relatable [to the students], you can't duplicate it out of a textbook or a traditional video, or anything like that."

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