Sunday, September 14, 2008

Opportunity, Optimism and a Tortoise Underfoot

Entisar is a woman with a measured but dynamic energy barely contained in her small frame. She is always moving, not with disjointed frenzy, but with deft purpose. She cares for her 3 daughters while keeping her small apartment tidy, stepping over the pet tortoise and busy kitten while, at the same time, making copious amounts of baked goods in the special oven that your donations bought for her micro-project. She bakes an array of sweet and savory items along with two kinds of flat bread.

Read about Entisar and her family HERE (scroll down to about mid-page)

She received her micro-project two months ago and said that the first month was slow as she developed customers in her neighborhood. Now, during Ramadan when each day's fast is broken by a large Iftar meal, she can barely keep up with the many orders. With Eid (the celebration at the end of the month of Ramadan) approaching in two weeks, she anticipates even more business. She admits she cannot predict what sales will be like after the holiday season but, with the large customer-base she's creating now, she's optimistic. Now, in addition to baked goods, Entisar is also making special eggplant pickles that Iraqis are fond of. With her energy, and determination, we share her optimism!

Entisar receiving her micro-project of oven, propane tank and baking provisions.

When I asked how their lives have improved because of the micro-project, she started counting off a list of the things she has been able to buy for her family: a sorely needed gas cylinder for their stove (most stoves and portable heaters use 5 gallon propane tanks here) that she previously could not fathom affording, clothing for her daughters, supplies needed to start up her pickle business, and a good stock of ingredients for her baking business. Her smile filled her face as she said "Ilhamdu lillaah!" (Praise to God) She thanked us over and over for this gift that is making such a difference in their lives and told us to tell all of our donors thank you, too.

Her two school-age daughters are attending school and enjoying it. Both are excellent students. 15 year old Noor has lovely long eyes she gets from her Egyptian father. She admits to not doing well in English but is proud that she does well in Arabic, math and science. When I gave her young siblings their crayons and paints, she shyly admitted she would like paints, too. At first, she seemed to have a teenager's reserve in talking with new adults, but she warmed up quickly and her frequent smile was lovely as it followed the line of her eyes across her face.

Her 9 year old sister, the quietly serious bespectacled Hiba, excels in English and says that she is pretty good in math and science, too. Despite her competancy in English, she didn't join in the conversation much, but sat watching us all intently, taking it all in and digesting it carefully. She resembled a little adult. I have the feeling she will be a very successful woman.

Dua'a had her 4th birthday just the day before. We all sang the Happy Birthday song to her and she accepted the honor like the young queen she is. She chattered to me enthusiastically nonstop in Arabic during our entire visit despite the fact that I didn't understand most of what she said. She seems to have her mom's outlook and energy.

We asked Entisar what other needs they have and she replied that the cost everything is rising rapidly and, even with her success in her micro-project, her husband is still not working. She is their sole support. Her micro-project, occasional help from local donors, and the 50 JD cash grant they receive from CARE organization is what they live on. She said that she had not received her CARE grant this month and, just like Kareema (see her story below), she was told to not inquire to them about it but to wait and they will message her. She told us that they would appreciate receiving food rations.

We ended our visit with laughter and an invitation for me to move in with this bustling household. When we peeked in to the tidy kitchen and the spotless children's room on our way out, I exclaimed that, instead, I wanted Entisar to move in with me and take care of me so well! I congratulated her on her success so far and told her that I am certain it will only increase because of her hard work and great attitude.

Entisar with daughters, oven and pet tortoise

We cannot expect that "success" with the micro-projects will look the same as it might if the recipients were living in their home country or had permission to work legally in Jordan. They cannot hang out a sign, put ads in the paper, or rent a building in a high traffic area to bring in customers here.

Iraqis in Jordan are here as "temporary guests" of this overburdened country and Jordan, home to Palestinian refugees who comprise 33% of it's population, is already strapped for resources - both financial and natural. Jordan has not received adequet compensation from the US or international community to be able to handle the tremendous influx of Iraqis following the US-led invasion of 2003. Although we cannot blame Jordan for it's unwillingness to make life for Iraqis too comfortable here and we must appreciate it's generosity and sacrifice, we wish that they would loosen the restrictions on Iraqi employment as a temporary measure until Iraqis can return to their homeland once it is safe to do so.

The inability of Iraqi refugees here to obtain legal employment and insufficient funds from the international community to provide them with adequet shelter, food, and medical care put them in the position of becoming criminals if they try to support their families.

Frequent raids of businesses that will hire Iraqis under-the-table result in imprisonment and possible forced repatriation back into Iraq (a certain death sentence for most) for those who risk work. Forced repatriation separates fathers from their families and leaves vulnerable women to bear the burden of supporting their famiy alone while being under tremendous stress, worrying about the fate of their husbands. Businesses that violate the law and hire Iraqis can be charged substantial fines for hiring them so few are willing to take the risk. Some that do exploit their vulnerable workers, paying them substandard wages and sometimes not paying them at all at the end of a pay period. When this happens, those victimized have no recourse; reporting the abuse to authorities would only get themselves into trouble.

Our micro-projects, although they cannot provide Iraqis with the same degree of success they might have if they were able to nurture them and expand them as legal residents, when even modestly successful, do increase meager incomes and keep refugees from risking illegal employment.

Another benefit that cannot be measured by our assessments or in dollars (or dinars) is that they give purpose and focus to the days of Iraqis who previously had little to do. Many micro-project recipients have reported to us that, where they once spent their days in grief about the past, worry about their current situation, and hopeless about the future, now they are happier and they feel their time is spent productively. They sometimes say that this has resulted in an improvement in the mental well-being of the entire family - not hard to imagine as children often adapt to and adopt the attitudes of their parents.

We can certainly see how Entisar and her family are benefiting in all of these ways as a result of your generosity.

Please give so that more families can reap these benefits