Sunday, September 14, 2008

Four High Walls

Yesterday we also visited another past recipient of CRP micro-projects; Kareema had received a sewing machine so that she might help her large and struggling family survive. (read her story HERE)

Kareema and her husband, Thigeel, have 6 children. The two oldest no longer live at home; the youngest four, aged 3 to 11, all share a one room home with their parents. I, like you, had only seen photos of this lovely family and their home before I cautiously walked down the steep hill to enter their home that appears more like an underground storage room for the apartments stacked above it.

Photos do not give an accurate picture of how grim their dwelling is; the room is perhaps 20 x 20, with a ceiling nearly as tall, giving the impression that one is in a symmetrical 'box'. Multicolored layers of paint are peeling in long strips off of the walls but Kareema and Thigeel have hung threadbare bits of fabric on them to hide this as much as they can. The room contains only their sleeping mats and blankets, a refrigerator, and an old tv. They showed us their only food - a half gallon jar of flour, a half bottle of oil, and a bag of flat bread.

I saw no evidence of any toys; the children's only visible belongings were the row of school bags hanging on hooks on the wall near the door. A small, one-burner stove sat outside of the door in an area that had no walls, just a cement roof overhead that looks like the roof of an underground parking garage. Blankets hung airing on lines here, moving gently as their cheery colors contrasted with the greys of cement and shade. This area provided a large, safe place for the children to play out of the brutal Amman summer sun. An adjacent toilet-room had no door. Never the less, despite all it lacks, Kareema, keeps her tiny house tidy and their few belongings well-organized.

The sewing machine was neatly covered with a blanket and stacked on top of a box against a wall.

We asked about how she was faring with her sewing. She said that things were not going so well; she had sewn some abayas (long dresses worn by many women here) and was paid 2JD (approx $3) for each. She then said that, frankly, she was too busy worrying about how to feed her children and their other problems.

They had been receiving a monthly grant cash grant of $240 through CARE but, for a reason not explained to them, they have not received it for the past 2 months. When they have asked, they are told that it will come, not to contact CARE, that they will receive a notice when the funds are available. This family receives no other assistance - not even food rations - and have been relying on loans from neighbors to pay the rent, buy food, and pay for Thigeel's medicines for his severe asthma. They are approximately 150 JD in debt at this time. If their cash grant is not reinstated soon, this already-burgeoning debt for them will grow into an insurmountable burden and put them at risk of being even (unimaginably) more unstable, perhaps homeless.

It is easy to understand why Kareema cannot put time into developing a business with her sewing machine at this time - the family's needs are immediate and overwhelming. Kareema complained of weakness and Thigeel's asthma is severe; he has an infection in his lungs now and also fluid build-up. We decided that we will do what we can to meet this family's immediate survival needs and then, when these have been met, we will find ways of supporting Kareema in becoming successful with her sewing project. As it is, any two JD from sewing a dress for a customer that comes in immediately disappears into buying a little food to put on the table.

We gave them money for food and some coloring books, paints and crayons for the children. We have put them on Maha's list to receive food rations and for help in purchasing his medications. We will follow up on whether or not their cash assistance is reinstated soon and, if not, look for other options to help them. We will, when the family is more stable, purchase fabrics for Kareema's sewing project and invite her to join a new support group we are forming for micro-project recipients. This group will give these families an opportunity to meet, help one another improve their strategies for marketing their wares, and provide them with a community of other entrepreneurs who face the same sort of challenges in supporting their families while being unable to be employed. And, of course, CRP, through your contributions, will support them by providing them with supplies that will help give their ventures the boost that they need to succeed. Despite their dire circumstances and the challenges they face, these desperate parents maintain an attitude of hope and an easy sense of humor. The children, clean and dressed in their best, giggled and teased one another good naturedly but were well behaved. They all attend and love school. Thigeel proudly told us that 10 year old Hussein has the 2nd highest marks in his class. It seems that their close-quarters only reinforce the emotional closeness in this family; the love in their home is their palatable and enviable wealth.
I am constantly amazed at the strength and grace of Iraqis who have lost so much and whose future is so uncertain. They cannot go home and they cannot fully and freely live here. They are surrounded by walls that form an unseen but formidable prison and, although they grieve and struggle, they rarely show the kind of despair that we might expect in those facing such insurmountable troubles, on top of the horrors endured in Iraq and all they lost when leaving. It is up to us to do what we can to ease as much of their pain that we can; we can do that. We might not be able to free them completely from these dark walls, but we can make windows to let in some light.

Kareema's micro-project is not yet successful because of her family's extreme circumstances. Please read the update on on Entisar's micro-project (above) - to see of one of the many stories of success of this program.

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Even your small contribution will make a big difference to those who have so little.