Boettcher Scholar helps refugees and hospital patients during visit to Kurdistan

Boettcher Scholar helps refugees and hospital patients during visit to Kurdistan

When a recent trip to visit her ailing grandmother meant traveling to Iraq, Laveen Khoshnaw, a 2015 Boettcher Scholar, used her time to reconnect with family and while helping the local community.

Laveen was born in the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq. Her family fled the region in 1998 after her father’s work with an American humanitarian organization caused him to be targeted by Saddam Hussein’s regime. After spending time in Guam, the family relocated to Colorado Springs where Laveen grew up and graduated from high school.

As a sophomore at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Laveen is majoring in biomedical sciences and minoring in biochemistry, political science, and leadership. She plans to attend medical school and harbors a dream of becoming the U.S. Surgeon General, although her more practical ambition is to practice medicine and help repair the Middle East.

“It’s such a rich, wonderful place that’s just in the wrong hands,” she said.

Because she still had family in the region, Laveen has had the opportunity to return to Iraq to visit her family in recent years. But her most recent trip, prompted by her grandmother’s stroke last year, quickly evolved into a humanitarian mission and an education on Iraq’s health care system and how that system is being impacted by refugees from southern Iraq and Syria.

“There are so many families in the streets, and the public hospitals are completely packed,” Laveen recalled of her summer in Iraq. “There is no shelter or housing (for refugees), so they seek refuge in the hospitals. They’re just looking for a place to sit and get out of the heat.”

When describing the hospitals, Laveen, who is a Certified Nursing Assistant, is quick to note that they are nothing like American hospitals. In addition to less sanitary conditions and overstretched staff, she noted that patients’ families are expected to fulfill many responsibilities, like feeding and cleaning up after their relatives who are hospitalized.

Seeing the need, Laveen and her family began working to help stock the hospitals and provide better supplies. They brought in basics like bottled water and disposable sheets they obtained via an uncle in Switzerland.

Similarly, the family went into refugee communities and brought in supplies to help them build better shelters.

“It was so heart-wrenching to see the situation and not be able to do even more,” she said.

Laveen returned from her summer in Kurdistan with a new resolve to help people, especially refugees in the Middle East. She and her friends are planning to host a fundraising gala to help Syrian refugees.

Laveen is also considering a second journey to assist struggling health care systems. This time, she’ll be headed to Nicaragua with members of Global Medical Brigades, an on-campus organization of pre-med students that provides medical support in struggling countries.

In addition to her work with Global Medical Brigades, Laveen is an associate chief justice with UCCS’ student government association and is active in the pre-health society, while also working at a local optometrist’s office.

“I’ve always wanted to go back and make change in the Middle East, but now it is more focused on the health care system,” she said, adding that she expects she will practice medicine in the United States but start or work with a group of people to affect change in the Middle East as well.

“I know I’m not going to be the one person who changes it, but if I can get a team of likeminded people – as cheesy as it sounds – I think we can make a difference.”

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