Threat on Life Triggered Flight to Freedom, New Opportunities

Animation of human eye by Gilbert KakoFor Gilbert Benjamin Kako, it was a long and challenging journey from a tense wartime environment in Iraq, to the clean, quiet campus of Glendale Community College, where he recently earned an associate degree in digital media arts.

Gilbert, now 29, lives with his mother, older brother and younger twin sisters in Glendale, Arizona. But just four years ago, the family arrived in the United States as refugees – the move prompted by a threat on Gilbert’s life. His father, a soldier, was killed in the Iraq-Iran war in 1987.

Gilbert was born in Kirkuk City, about a three-hour drive from Baghdad. Kirkuk is known for its mixed culture and multiple ethnicities, including Christians, Arabs, Kurds and Turks. Gilbert is fluent in four languages.

screen shot of animated GCC logo by Gilbert Kako

With an associate degree in Computer Information Systems, Gilbert started his career working for Kirkuk TV, translating, designing, editing and doing some animations. Then began a new job:  working with the American army provincial reconstruction team (PRT) coalition forces. His job was to help screen local citizens who wanted a permit to carry weapons legally.

Gilbert met with applicants, did background checks, evaluated their qualifications and most importantly, checked whether they were affiliated with the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein’s regime – a dangerous role, since certain factions considered it a betrayal for an Iraqi to work with the U.S. Army.

The job was short-lived. After one year, Gilbert received a letter from an Islamic group, threatening to kill him. He and his family fled first to Syria, where, after a year and a half, Gilbert received an offer from the United States government to move and live in U.S. with his family. He was 26 years old when they arrived in Arizona.

Always interested in getting a higher-education degree, Gilbert decided to pursue his interest in multimedia. It was too expensive for him to enroll in a four-year program, so he researched other multimedia programs in the Phoenix area. He found only three available, and selected Glendale Community College. “I chose GCC because it was affordable and close to where I used to live,” said Gilbert.

animated gcc logo designed by kako

Simultaneously working to help his family pay bills, Gilbert was required to be a full-time student to satisfy financial-aid requirements. It took him two and a half years to finish his AAS degree. His GPA was 3.62.

Recalling the challenges, Gilbert said, “When you work very hard and never complain, meeting challenges becomes a habit.” He also credited his mother for consistent support and many good teachers, including Casey Farina from the Digital Media Arts department.

Gilbert recently worked on a Center for Teaching, Learning and Engagement (CTLE) animated logo and is now helping to produce a video on accountability.

animation of human brain designed by Kako

The wide-open spaces, diverse population, and tidy GCC campus proved to be a nurturing environment for the young man who, only a few short years ago, faced a death threat. He’s now looking at options for his future, including the possibility of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in visual effects or digital motion from a leading art institute or online school.



The Human Library brings a mixture of stories and emotions to GCC

Guest post by: Stacy Damitio
This article appeared in the Nov. 7, 2012 issue of The Voice, the GCC student newspaper. 

History was made Oct. 24, at Glendale Community College. On this day, GCC was the proud host of the Human Library. GCC was one on a short list of places this event has been hosted in the United States. Students came to the Student Union, and chose from an array of “books” to check out.

These “books” were more than just ordinary books with pages and print—These “books” were people who have lived lives interesting enough to be captured in print. Instead of reading these “books,” students sat in small groups and heard their stories of struggle, fear, discrimination, encounters with hate, and most of all success.

While sitting at the tables listening to their chosen books, students could not help but overhear the other books around them, and interest grew.

“I expected to listen to one book, but I signed up for four,” said sophomore, Cassie Pence.

The day was well attended. At the closing it was announced there were 1,100 readers.

“What were most interesting were the walk-ups, or the students who didn’t register through the system,” said Kirt Shineman, professor, and one of the main people responsible for bringing this event to GCC.

What made this event so unique was that students were able to walk into a room filled with so much diversity, and see people smiling, hugging, laughing and at times, crying. One example of this was seeing Kelly Sindel, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having a warm discussion with Julian Melson, who was born a woman, but is now a man. This was the sort of discourse which encompassed the entire five-hour day.

Students were also able to receive history lessons from individuals who survived the Holocaust. Each of these survivors had a unique story different from the rest. Marion Weinzeig, was one of the youngest people to survive the Holocaust. This was a miracle because children were normally the first to be taken to extermination camps.

“I was the only child,” Weinzeig said, when speaking of being reunited with survivors at the end of the Holocaust.

Osckar Knoblolavch Noble, another Holocaust survivor, reminded students: “Freedom of speech is important, a gift to America, given to us by the Constitution.” Noble’s message to students was also one of respecting your enemies, and being tolerant. “Respect and tolerance go hand in hand,” said Noble. He credits those traits for saving his life.

“I thought it was really good, people coming out and sharing their stories,” said freshman Cameron Termunde.

There were also countless stories of inspiration. One of them was Alice Yam, a young woman from Malaysia. She is extremely visually impaired, that is just the beginning of her story. She has other health problems as well, and just recently lost her little boy. She is now working at Arizona State University.

“I work with students to help them find jobs,” said Yam. She works with both disabled and non-disabled students.

Richard Nichols, a deaf man, and a former GCC student shared a message of strength. He spoke of being deaf, and being mainstreamed into public schools. He spoke of his struggles while in school, “There will always be people that will look down on you and judge,” Nichols said, using an interpreter.

Nichols had a wonderful sense of humor, and was a perfect example of an individual overcoming obstacles, and making the best of life.

Kirt Shineman and Heather Merrill, the professors responsible for setting up the event would like to see it happen again, but said that they are still unsure.

Students received the event very warmly. “I’m really happy people set this up, and I really hope they do it again next year,” Pence said.

The sentiment throughout the day was that if you came into that room, and listened to only one book; it would be enough to have a lasting effect on you.

“I sat in on two books, and cried all the way through,” Shineman said.

This did not affect just the students and faculty; it affected the books as well. “I just want to share with you what a wonderful and positive event, the Human Library Project was for me. I feel that it did as much for me as for my readers. My readers were incredible people; some of them I will never forget. I believe I totally reached them and that my message will be lived through them and shared with others,” said Weinzeig in an e-mail to Merrill.

Those who attended the event could pour through the dictionary for days looking for the right words to describe this event. They would not be successful. This event was more than words. It was something felt in the core of everyone in the room. A feeling to be remembered, and faces that not to be forgotten.

Female Veteran Challenges Self, Encourages Others to Seek Education and Assistance

Visitors or callers to the GCC Veteran Services Center will receive a warm welcome from Heather Pierson, a full-time GCC student and part-time employee at the Center. But the warm welcome is only the beginning. Heather also helps veterans deal with paperwork, get certified for classes and decide which classes to select.

Heather brings more to the job than just great people skills. A veteran herself, Heather understands the camaraderie that comes from shared experiences.

While stationed at Luke Air Force base, Heather scored high in mechanical aptitude. She went through tech school there, and then worked on the flight line (where the jets are parked, near the runway) as an aerospace ground-equipment technician. She repaired and maintained generators that supplied power to the jets while on the ground, and conducted operational checks, ensuring things like lights and radio-communications equipment on the jets were functioning properly.

A six-month tour of duty in Saudi Arabia was somewhat isolated, but an opportunity to meet members of the British Royal Air Force, and also French personnel serving there. Continue reading

Human Library: What an experience!

Guest Post by Bailey Hall

As a Media committee member, I was in command of the great task that was getting everyone who entered the Human Library to sign a photo release form.  I was at the end of the sign-up line, and politely, one by one, the diverse flood of our books began to arrive.  I had not known the books by face, so eagerly I began trying to guess some of their names before they got to me in the line.  I greeted them all, having a rush with some, knowing that I had just met a person who had gone through all of that, and they had just acknowledge my existence.  It was beautiful.  Everyone from all different walks of life: round, tall, black, a woman, blind, deaf, Jewish, the list of diversity goes on.  As the doors shut behind them, I knew that this would be a life-changing experience.

Later that morning, Sam and I managed the room during one of the Bestseller speeches.  The book’s description was on a podium inside of a room adorned with exotic artwork, a small stage, a box of tissues sitting on a chair, and several rows of audience seating.   It was quite vague, which made me even more enthralled to meet them.  Words that flashed on the page, though, were “Racial Crime” and “Pipe bomb.” This had to be a great story.  Don Logan walked into the room and introduced himself to Sam and me.  He was an African American man, and even addressed himself to the audience as being such.  At first the audience was uneasy about what he was saying, “Go ahead, who in here didn’t notice that I was black?” We burst out laughing.  Through his whole story he made us laugh.  I loved how loose he was while telling such a deep tale.  He began by informing us that Scottsdale is the fifth whitest city in America.  “It was pretty shocking when I became a Politician.”  He then went into telling us about the package.  “It was all taped up, and had a weird return address.  One of the ladies in the office even jokingly said that it was probably a bomb.” How horribly right she was.  Upon opening the box, a bomb detonated right in the middle of his office.  “There was a loud ‘pop’ and all of a sudden, the window behind my desk shattered, my secretary screamed and my hand hurt really bad…” The only thing that kept Logan from death that day was opening the box upside down.  It was crazy.  When in the hospital, the news flashed his pictures. “It was weird seeing myself, and hearing people talk about me like I was dead.”  He suffered several injuries, but none had been fatal.  The bomb had been sent  by two white supremacists, who were hurriedly taken to court.  The final verdict was forty years in prison for the brother who had been the mastermind.  When Don Logan was finished speaking, and we said our goodbyes, I felt a little more enlightened on the still-existing issue of racism.

The next speaker who entered our little best seller room was Dr. Alexander White.  He is an 89-year-old holocaust survivor.  His story began with explaining the military aspect of the war, and how his village had faired.  The rest of his story is too horrific to repeat.  I learned a lot from Dr. White.  He had actually been saved on Schindler’s list!

By the end of the day, I walked away with a better feeling of myself, and others.  Witnessing the human struggle, and knowing how many people care to help end hate astounded me.

Bailey Hall is studying Performing Arts as an honor student at Glendale Community College.