AT&T opens its doors to Iraqis

10:19 PM, Apr 25, 2010   |    comments
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By Mike Bush

KSDK-From the outside of AT&T in downtown St. Louis, you would never know it but behind closed doors, they've opened their arms.

For the last 12 weeks,  access to some of their most important projects was granted to two students.

"They bring new ideas and fresh eyes to our business, " explains AT&T Vice President Debra Hollingsworth.

The students just happen to be from Iraq.

"I'm really enjoying that and I'm learning a lot,  " says 23 year old Sarbast Rashid.

Rashid and Sadeq Schnaishel are a part of the U.S. State Departments first Information Technology Intern Exchange program.  They're two of just six people in Iraq invited to come to the US to get a sense of how business works here.

"They can take their knowledge and experience back to Iraq and help generate some more enthusiasm and business over there, " says Hollingsworth.

Some of the interns were sent to New York, others to San Francisco. Sarbast and Sadeq were ticketed for St. Louis.

"I never even heard of St. Louis before I came here, " says the 25 year old Shnaishel.

"A couple of my American friends told me that you're going to the middle of the country, " recalled Rashid.  "Which means that people are extremely nice."

For the past three months while working at AT&T and living in a two bedroom apartment over looking the Arch, they've not only learned about American business, they've learned about America.

"America is the land of opportunity!", exclaims Shnaishel.

It's a far cry from the horrors of war and the life they grew up in under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

"It was awful. I lost two uncles. He killed them, " says Shnaishel.

Rashid added, "I couldn't even talk about what I feel about the government and different topics and subjects to my friends because you wouldn't know who would be like the spy.

Sarbast and Sadeq aren't just learning, they've also been teaching. Among the places they visited was an elementary school in Aviston, Illinois.  

"Everyone loves his country, " Shnaisel explained to the students. "My family has lived in Iraq maybe one thousand, two thousand years. We are just people, we love to have fun. No one loves war. That's the reality."

Living in the U.S., we sometimes take for granted how lucky we are. A fresh set of eyes can bring freedom into focus.

"I saw a church, I saw a mosque, people from different religions practice what they want, " says Rashid. "They express their opinion. It's really awesome. I really hope one day my country will be like that."

When they return home Sarbast and Sadeq hope to use the skills they've learned here to help develop the technology industry in Iraq.   And in their suitcases, they'll bring along the spirit of St. Louis.

"I plan to start my own company, " says Rashid.

"I'm also going to start my own business and that's what makes me CEO!, " exclaims Shnaishel.

Clearly, the American dream isn't just for Americans.



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