In Their Shoes

By Rick Burns

blog_rick5k_300.pngI founded Karadah Project International, an Iowa nonprofit corporation, because of the unique and personal experiences I had with the extraordinary people I met while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. These people, who are courageously fighting for peace and stability in their countries, inspire and animate me. Although faraway, refugees, displaced persons, and others suffering under the chaos of war and conflict are never far from my thoughts. 

I’ve discovered that I’m not alone. All across the country, veterans are continuing to serve their country. They, too, are energized by experiences that compel them to seek solutions to some of the world’s most perplexing problems. Veterans are taking care of other veterans, advocating for better policies on a range of issues, running for political office, and being active and involved citizens. The imperative for service is innate in the military ethos; continuing that service in civilian life is a natural extension. 

Karadah Project teams up with many other other organizations, such as Sister Cities InternationalRotary InternationalUS Global Leadership Coalition,and Veterans for American Ideals. These partnerships extend the reach of Karadah Project and amplifies its voice on issues that directly impact Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Partnerships struck with smaller organizations also allow us to maximize work in the trenches. Our Soccer Salam partnership with the veteran-founded and Iraq-focused nonprofits Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC)Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF)Goals and Dreams, and our Iraq NGO partner, the Iraqi Health Access Organization (IHAO)has provided significant humanitarian support to displaced Iraqi families, particularly at the height of ISIS expansion. This support has most often been positioned at outposts where larger aid organizations could not go due to security concerns. Partnering with the Lamia Foundation—founded by LTG (retired) John Bradley and his wife Jan—has resulted in support for rural and disadvantaged women through livestock, vocational training, and education projects in rural Herat Province. With our Afghan partners, Shindand Women Social Foundationand Women Education for Better Tomorrow, we work to help disadvantaged and displaced women and their families move closer to self-sufficiency and out of extreme poverty. 

blog_5k1_300.jpgOn May 5, Karadah Project fielded Team Karadah in support of the annual Iraqi Children Foundation’s “In Their Shoes” 5K Run fundraiser. In addition to the great humanitarian work ICF is doing through our Soccer Salam partnership, it is reaching out to vulnerable orphans and street kids in Baghdad. An estimated 800,000 children have been orphaned due to conflict. The ISIS invasion alone displaced more than 1.3 million people. ICF lawyers work with these vulnerable children to get critical legal documentation, while ICF also provides needed meals and education to these at-risk children in Baghdad. Their work is having tangible effects in the lives of children. 

Team Karadah’s second year supporting the ICF 5k Run fundraiser included military and Department of State veterans, veteran family members, and others working with refugees and asylum seekers.  

The real stars of the day, however, were three Iraqi teens, reminders of why we participate in such events. Teeba, Ala’a, and Humoody serve as Youth Ambassadors for the “In Their Shoes” 5K. Each was injured in the war in Iraq. Teeba suffered serious injuries when an IED blew up the car in which she was riding, killing her brother. Humoody was shot in the face and blinded.  Ala'a was abandoned as a little boy with cerebral palsy. American parents adopted them and provide them with loving homes in which to overcome their mental and physical trauma. Today, Teeba, Ala'a, and Humoody have turned their challenges into advocacy for other children back home in Iraq. They inspire and compel those of us less challenged to be better and do better. 


Rick Burns is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the founder of Karadah Project International, and a Vets for American Ideals leader in Iowa.