As prepared for delivery
Remarks at the Reception Honoring Emerging Young Leader Zina Salim Hassan Hamu
May 14, 2018
Welcome and thank you all for coming to this very special event. On May 2, in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of State presented its Emerging Young Leaders Award to Zina Salim Hassan Hamu, who is currently studying at LCC International University in Klaipeda. Each year, the U.S. presents this award to only ten outstanding young leaders from around the world — and we are absolutely thrilled that our Embassy’s nominee was selected this year.
The award recognizes Zina’s extraordinary efforts to educate the world about the experiences faced by the Yazidi people after ISIS attacked their homes and forced them into camps for displaced people. She tells this very personal story through photojournalism, a craft she plans to pursue professionally after completing her studies.
Zina is doing exceptional work to promote tolerance and create positive change in the world. Emerging Young Leaders award shines a light on people who do extraordinary things under difficult situations, and Zina is certainly one of them. We want more people to hear her voice so that they can understand the challenges faced by people in Iraq and Syria, and in refugee camps all over the world.
Four years ago, just as she was taking her high school exams, Zina fled with her family as ISIS attacked her hometown of Shingal, Iraq. She lived in a camp for displaced people for two years before earning an opportunity to study English in Lithuania.
Over the past three years, she has dedicated herself to telling the story of the Yazidi people through photojournalism. Having personally witnessed genocide as ISIS kidnapped or killed Yazidi girls, Zina has become a voice to carry their story to the international community.
While living in the Khanke camp in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Zina volunteered as a child protector with ACTED, a UNICEF organization, and as a health guide with AMAR Foundation – a London-based organization. She also participated in health and vaccine awareness campaigns and street cleanups.
In 2015, Zina took part in a project supported by UNICEF to teach photography to Yazidi girls as a form of empowerment. There she found her passion and decided to become a photojournalist. Zina has now shown her photos in Iraq, Italy, France and Lithuania and has used them to tell her story to people who know little about the Yazidi people.
LCC International University recruited Zina for their Middle East Scholars program while she was still living in the camp. After completing LCC’s intensive English program, she intends to continue her studies in Canada next fall.
Zina just returned from the U.S. this weekend, and in a moment, I will let her tell you her story in her own words – a story we are very proud now includes an exchange program in the United States.
But first, I want thank all of you. First, I want to thank LCC International University for its incredible commitment to the Middle East Scholars Program and the extraordinary efforts of the staff of LCC staff to find students like Zina, who are living in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable, but who have such incredible resilience and potential.
And I also want to thank all the Lithuanians in this room for making it possible for Zina to come and live in this amazing country with a student visa. Many of you are promoting human rights and religious freedom, or working on immigration and refugee resettlement issues. You may never meet many of the individuals your work touches. But your work truly changes lives and opens doors for people like Zina, who go onto educate other communities about their experiences.
Please join me in a big round of applause for everyone who works to make accomplishments like Zina’s possible.
And now, it is my great honor to introduce to you one of the world’s Emerging Young Leaders: Zina Salim Hassan Hamu.