When Donna Sheron and her son Clinton ventured to northern Iraq last November, the Frederick residents never thought they would return to the same area less than a year later to help set up a school.
Their two-week stay in a small Iraqi village with refugees from Mount Sinjar, however, helped the mother-son duo find their calling: bringing education to the town’s children. “You leave a part of your heart there,” said Donna Sheron, who has lived in Frederick County for almost 20 years.
“I did and (Clinton) did.” With the village’s adults focused on day-to-day necessities like providing food and repairing buildings, most of the children are left with nothing to do, unless they are searching for sticks to feed a fire.
“We would go play soccer, do crafts, sing silly songs ... it was two weeks of hanging out with these kids,” Donna Sheron said, noting that they also taught the children English. Their trip was sponsored by Plain Compassion Crisis Response, a religious nonprofit that responds to crises throughout the world, according to its website.
Through word-of-mouth, about 180 children showed up at a warehouse upon hearing the news that school would be held. The children’s desire to learn, coupled with Donna and Clinton Sheron’s bond with the children, fueled their desire to raise the funds to establish a permanent educational institution.
“That’s why we’re doing it — because we care,” said Clinton Sheron, noting they are organizing the school through an American professor residing in northern Iraq. “We’re going to keep doing it.” The Sherons are no strangers to volunteering and aiding abroad.
Donna and Clinton traveled to Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake, returning multiple times to help rebuild the area.
However, Clinton Sheron said he feels more passionately about aiding the children in Iraq, an unexplainable desire to help. “Certain people have different callings,” he said, noting his bond with some of the refugee children like Solomon may have sparked this passion.
Solomon is a 16-year-old refugee from Syria, fleeing the country after seeing his best friend die in combat, Donna Sheron said. Today, Solomon helps repair the battered buildings in the village, and has become fast friends with Clinton.
To stay in touch, the two use the social media app Snapchat. The Frederick mother and son said they plan to return to the northern Iraqi village in May with the money raised so far, which will go toward items such as school supplies, computers and repairing the school building.
As of Friday evening, the Sherons had raised close to $10,100 on their GoFundMe page, which Donna Sheron created in mid-January. “We’d like to go a little faster ... but we’re happy with the progress,” she said, noting the total school costs will be around $100,000.
Donna and Clinton said they could not disclose the village’s exact location, explaining it would jeopardize the safety of visitors and refugees. “It’s dangerous over there,” Clinton said. “People feel like it’s safe because we went there. ... We know the dangers.”
Despite some of the hardships of the trip and traveling through the area, the Sherons said they feel passionate about establishing a school in the northern Iraqi village. “We didn’t want the publicity; it’s not about us. ... But if we have to be exposed to help them, we will,” Donna Sheron said.
By Paige Jones