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.



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