University of Minnesota student Anna Kaminski jumped at the chance to teach classes to Iraqi citizens, and also helped to establish regular trash pick-up in her host city of Najaf. While basic utilities are taken for granted in the United States, destruction from the war has caused many important quality of life measurements to crumble in Iraq. Her international work, however, is not limited to a single 22-day trip to a war torn country. Kaminski is learning Arabic and has traveled to nine countries so far, and she departs in August for one year in Jordan. On April 20, 2012, she was awarded the second annual Inna Meiman Human Rights Award by the University of Minnesota, recognizing her dedication to human rights work.
Kaminski, set to graduate in 2014, said trash collection “seems so small, but a clean environment can provide a clean slate and remind people that we have the power to make a difference.”
“I really believe that something so simple can make a huge difference,” she continues. “The day of the clean-up…was also the day I saw the most hope in people’s eyes.”
When she arrived in Iraq for her short-term assignment as a teacher, she worked with the Muslim Peacekeeper Teams and the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP), to find room for the class in local offices, restaurants, and homes. As she watched trash accumulate in a lot near her host family’s home, she saw children playing in the filth that contained items such as used syringes, broken glass, and sanitary napkins. Working with the local community, Kaminski helped to clean things up and, approximately one year later, the pick-up program is still operational.
“We take so many things for granted in this country, it was hard to readjust,” she says of her return home. The trip motivated her to continue to learn, including improving her Arabic skills. She visited Oman prior to Iraq as a part of a Critical Language Scholarship, and she continues to gain fluency with her upcoming studies in Jordan. “When I return [to Iraq], I hope to reconnect with the many people I [met] and to be able to make more enduring and lasting connections.”
Kaminski says the issue of human rights “is of ultimate importance to me.” She explains, “I tend to view things generally and am not tied to one specific cause. I have come to realize that focusing only on one cause blinds people to other causes that are equally as important.… Ultimately, we all want the same things. We want the world to be a more peaceful and harmonious place to live.”
The wellness of others has been a recurring theme in Kaminski’s life from an early age. Her mother was a social worker in LaCrosse, WI. “My mother was really influential on me,” she states, “and I’m fairly certain Catholic school has something to do with wanting to work in human rights.”
Although she has worked on public relations and fundraising in the past, she sees herself taking a hands-on role. “When it comes down to it, I want to be on the ground with people. I would rather be in Congo, Sudan, Syria, India, etc, than focusing on raising money.”
Her work is just a piece of a larger, global goal perhaps best summarized in a blog entry she wrote for IARP’s website while in Iraq: “It is my hope that Iraq can be rebuilt so well that it will lead as an example of…how to be willing to embrace change and bond together to better society as a whole.”
When she returns to Minnesota, Kaminski will finish her undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota. “Ultimately, I think that I want to teach at a university, but that will be far into the future after working many jobs and a lot of time spent in and out of academia. I hope to study art and politics and their crucially important, yet often overlooked, intersection in developing countries.”