Brian Jones

It is not unusual to see a Street Sense vendor leading a group of volunteers who have signed up to be “Vendors for a Day.” Often the volunteers are from church and youth organizations from other cities, seeking insights into poverty and homelessness in the nation’s capital. But on June 28, the volunteer vendors came from much farther away. They were a host of college exchange students from Iraq.

The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program, funded by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, sent nearly 50 students from different universities across Iraq to study in America. Half the group has come to study public policy at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, while the other half will study social media at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Before heading to campus, the students made time to see Washington and to work at Street Sense, going out in eight groups to sell the paper on the streets of D.C.

Some were Muslim, some Christian. Some of the young women covered their hair with the head scarf called a hijab, while some did not. One student, Mustafa, said he wished to start an organization like Street Sense to help the poor and homeless back in Iraq.

The sell was rough. The day was hot. But the students were able to get a different window into American culture rather than the one they had seen in movies or read in the news.