Between comfort and duty in a war zone by Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri: As an emergency room physician in Iraq, Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri frequently faces very challenging circumstances. In the middle of a crisis, his patients appreciate his grace under heavy pressure without realizing that his courage was forged as a patient, not in medical school. At 17, he was shot in the leg by a sniper. He could have caved under peer pressure and considered revenge, but instead, as he recently told a journalist, he remembered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words, “Violence begets violence.” After being treated without anesthesia in an understaffed emergency room, he decided to pursue a career in medicine to fill an urgent need in Iraq. See additional information on Alnaserbelh Al Naseri.
Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri is a proud 2010 Iraqi Youth Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) alumnus and he is committed to working with fellow Iraqi alumni to improve the state of medical care in Baghdad, particularly for children with grave illnesses. When he is not pulling double shifts as a resident at the Sulaimaniyah Teaching Hospital, Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri is an active member of the Iraqi exchange alumni community. He credits his exchange with launching his impressive volunteer work, saying “I view my IYLEP experience as the starting point of my volunteer work in support of civil society and the start of my work in youth leadership. The new friends that I met during IYLEP provided me inspiration and a strong network that I knew I could rely upon even far away in Iraq.”
Al-Nasir Bellah Al-Nasiry was attacked and shot as a teenager. But instead of seeking revenge today he is a medical doctor and an advocate for a peaceful future in Iraq. The 26-year-old doctor, who is from Baghdad and is half Kurdish, half Arab, remembers the immense pressure he felt to retaliate against his attackers. “I still remember people telling me, ‘Do something about it. Take revenge. Kill the other guy,’” he says. Friends would say “Prove your manhood, preserve your dignity.”
Alnaserbelh Al Naseri’s story is one of hope in the face of extreme adversity. In 2006, Alnaserbelh Al Naseri was shot in the leg in Baghdad (a war zone). Nasir went to the emergency room and there were no doctors on call to treat him; they were treating three wounded police officers. He was treated for a gunshot wound by a nurse without anesthesia. Today, at 26 years old, Nasir is himself a doctor working in his country. Given the instability in Iraq today, he could choose to leave. Instead, he serves his people. His leadership reminds me that millennial leadership exists in every place on earth; these are the leaders the world must invest in and unite behind.
Today, Al-Nasiry wears many hats and holds an impressive list of titles. He is a resident at the Sulaimaniyah Teaching Hospital, a coordinator at TEDxBaghdad, a member of the Iraqi Youth Parliament, and is on the Global Advisory Council of World Learning, alongside ambassadors, CEOs, and NGO presidents. He frequently gives talks on youth empowerment and is a tireless activist when he is not on the speaker’s podium or within hospital walls.
He started a project called “There’s Always Hope” with Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and IYLEP alumni. Project volunteers visit local medical facilities and provide support to Iraqi children with cancer. For the past three years, Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri has worked with alumni to organize the annual Baghdad City of Peace Carnival in conjunction with the UN’s World Peace Day. The Carnival, which features a wide array of entertainers, poets, and actors, attracts thousands of annual attendees who come together to promote alternatives to violence, extremism, and sectarianism.
“In my opinion, anyone is susceptible to embracing violence,” he says. “Even me, nine years ago: I was susceptible to taking a gun and firing it. I could’ve been a leader in ISIS right now.” According to Al-Nasiry, the key to developing a generation of peacemakers is encouraging and promoting role models for Iraqi youths. “I believe it’s by creating a peaceful, educated environment – creating those strong role models, rather than the person who has an AK-47 on his back, promising to give him money or women in the afterlife,” he says.
His work with the alumni network is only the beginning of his career in civil society. He is also a member of the Iraqi Youth Parliament and the head of the TEDxBaghdad blogging team. Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri’s professional accomplishments are impressive, but his personal story of resilience and forgiveness serve as a reminder of the truth in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement on courage: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Each month, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports program alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Dr. Alnaserbelh Al Naseri is this month’s outstanding alumnus, and his work will be recognized throughout April on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official alumni website which serves more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide. “Even though we are being ruled by a corrupt government, I believe one of us will emerge to control Iraq and stabilize the country and provide a better future for our children. It’s a very long shot, but I’ll try,” he says. When asked how he plans to change the world, Al-Nasiry replies with a knowing humility that seems to define him: “Baby steps – baby turtle steps. Not even that.