BUDA — A Bureau County man is experiencing a different side of Iraq than just the military and political unrest often seen and chronicled on American television.
Dane Barnett, 21, of Buda is spending two months this summer in Iraq, serving an internship with the Preemptive Love Coalition, an organization that provides heart surgeries to Iraqi children.
A 2010 graduate of Bureau Valley High School in Manlius, Barnett became involved with the Preemptive Love Coalition as a sophomore at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. Barnett sat on the committee in charge of fundraising for the organization by the Cedarville study body.
Though he can’t give specifics, Barnett did say he is located in northwestern Iraq, having arrived about four weeks ago and scheduled to leave on July 24.
As an intern, his duties are to write and edit newsletters for the Preemptive Love Coalition and to create a system which organizes donors in a way so the organization can stay more connected with them in the future, Barnett said. The interns also build relationships with the Kurds to enhance the interns’ cultural experience.
Barnett is one of five summer interns helping the three families who work full time with Preemptive Love Coalition and live in Iraq. The other interns include a junior from Seattle Pacific University in Washington, a graduate of Pepperdine University in California, a junior at Anderson University in Indiana, and, like Barnett, another 2014 graduate of Cedarville University. The coalition’s executive assistant, who works stateside in Texas, is also in Iraq this summer.
The Buda native lives in an intern apartment in the basement of the house in which the coalition’s executive director and his family live. The Americans prepare American-style meals for themselves, like spaghetti and barbecue sandwiches, but the local food is delicious, Barnett said.
“I really love how much rice we eat and tea we drink,” Barnett said. “”I think there is something incredibly special about getting your bread from a place that only makes and sells bread and fruit and vegetables. You feel much closer to your food source. In America, it is much harder to eat healthy and know what you are eating is fresh.”
Iraq is actually a beautifully diverse country with mountains, rivers and waterfalls in the north and a mostly desert landscape in the south, Barnett said. The people of Iraq are incredibly warm and compassionate people, who are fascinated by the English language and the American culture, he added.
“We have had many great conversations over tea about religion, politics and foreign affairs,” Barnett said. “They are such an understanding, patient people.”
As far as his safety in a politically-unsettled country, Barnett said he’s never had any concerns about spending his summer in Iraq. Also, he is able to talk regularly to his parents, Kevin and Kris Barnett of Buda.
“I knew that the organization would take good care of its people and would not allow us to come if they felt at any time that it was unwise or unsafe to do so,” he said. “I do feel very safe here now. I think that this is a good a time as any for the work that we are doing here.
“While war is breaking out around the country, our message of peace still has a place here. We work to develop long-term solutions not just for the children themselves, but for the entire Iraqi healthcare system. Our work does not stop even though entire cities are in the hands of a militant group. It just makes our work all the more important.”
Looking ahead to returning to the United States later this summer, Barnett said his time with Preemptive Love Coalition has given him a revitalized passion for fundraising and given him the opportunity to do work that he loved for an organization of which he is passionate. With a college major in applied communications and a minor in Bible, Barnett hopes to work for an organization that does good and loves people.
“Personally, I think I will take the Preemptive Love Coalition’s mindset of ‘Love First, Ask Questions Later’ away from this,” Barnett said. “I have learned what an impact loving people without excuse or stipulations can have. I have realized that this is how Christ loved us, so we need to love each other the same way.”
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