A TEAM of students have returned from a once in a life time visit to Iraq.
The group of 16 to 18-year-olds from King Edward VI School, in Bury St Edmunds, spent eight days in the Kurdistan region of the once war-torn Gulf state to help pupils develop their leadership skills.
The trip was the first of its kind for UK students and the group helped pupils in four schools in Sulaymaniyah and Erbil develop festivals in sport and culture.
The group was made up of students James Sturgeon, Josh Bowcher, Jack Anthony, Edward Joynson, Joe Easdown and Ben Tippett as well as PE teacher Laura Foreman, head Geoff Barton and assistant head Rob Walden.
The groundbreaking venture shattered their preconceptions about the country.
Ed, 17, of Bury said: “It was extraordinary and wasn’t what I was expecting. The people were so generous.”
Asked whether they were nervous about the journey, Josh, 16, of Bury, said: “We all felt a bit sceptical about it because we know what happens in Baghdad. There was a lot of security, they were friendly and very professional.”
On the highlights, Ben, 18, of Thetford, said: “It was the multiculturalism and everyone coming together under one roof whether they were from Southern Iraq or Kurdistan. The students were all very open to learning.”
Joe, 18, of Bury, said: “We taught them leadership of how to set up a festival, which they would run for younger students.”
Noting what they will take away the most from the trip, Jack, 16, of Bury, added: “The resilience of the Kurdish people. They’ve been through so much over the last five to 10 years and they’ve come out so much stronger.”
The school hopes more visits to the region will follow and are aiming for Kurdish pupils to visit Bury.
Head Geoff Barton said: “We’re on a mission to make this sustainable. We knew it was going to be a momentous visit. It was only when we got there we realised how momentous because we had students and staff from all parts of Iraq. It made us realise we were involved in a historic project.”
As it was the first visit of its kind, the school was advised by the British Council to take male students and hope girls will be able to go next time.