In the fall of 2013, Zack Bazzi worked as a volunteer aiding Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. While there, he witnessed the massive migration taking place in the region. Among the refugees setting up homes in rows of temporary housing in and around the regional capital of Erbil, he got to know individuals and families who were uprooted by conflict, many of whom had lost everything. Moved by their courage and determination to carry on with their lives, he shared their images and stories with close friends and fellow war veterans Patrick Hu and Scott Quilty when he returned to the United States.
“The conditions in the camps stopped me in my tracks. But despite having lost everything, the people I met told me that continuing their children’s education was their top concern.”
In response, the three decided to launch a small-scale project aimed at helping to normalize the lives of children – boys and girls from all faiths and backgrounds – who have been uprooted by war. They designed TentED to plug into the aid efforts of more established organizations, by delivering the school supplies and services – the backpacks, uniforms, notebooks and bus transportation – that are the last-mile challenges preventing families from being able to return kids to school in conflict zones. To fund projects, they reached out to their networks in the United States and discovered that many Americans, including many war veterans, wanted to respond in some way to the urgent refugee crisis making headlines daily.
“We put out the word that we were going to do this, and the donations just started pouring in. It was overwhelming to see people do more than just “like” or “share” what we were trying to accomplish.”
In January 2014, they set up TentED under the umbrella of an existing nonprofit organization called EPIC. Within a year, they had raised more than $40,000. Zack traveled to the region three times, implementing and funding responsive projects that ranged from distributing school supplies and clothing to low-income students to helping establish a multilingual lending library. The success in the first two years spurred the team to launch TentED as an independent nonprofit in 2016. Today, with help from TentED, hundreds of displaced children are back in school and able to view their otherwise turbulent refugee life as a time of study, and progress, and sometimes even fun.