Friday, September 19, 2008

New Brookings Report on Iraqi Refugees & Internally Displaced


'...The emergency is remarkable from a global perspective as well, as it represents one of the world's most urgent crises—albeit one that is frequently overlooked. If a similar percentage of the U.S. population were displaced, this would represent over 50 million Americans—the equivalent in displacement of those uprooted by 50 Hurricane Katrinas. The U.N. Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, noted recently, "What may surprise some of you is that the number of displaced in Darfur is comparable to the number of internally displaced people in Iraq. While many are aware of the suffering of civilians in Darfur, it saddens me to see that the daily threats faced by Iraqis, exacerbated, of course, by the ongoing violence, are still under-reported and under-estimated."1 A report from Oxfam and NCCI released in July 2007 revealed staggering figures: eight million Iraqis in need of immediate humanitarian assistance including four million food-insecure.2..'

Read the full executive summary (short) HERE

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

Gratitude - and Apologies

We want to thank each of you who has contributed to our campaign to create a Family Resource & Community Center in Amman.....

THANK YOU! With your help, we will do this!

We had promised (and still do) to track your state or country's contributions on a dedicated page on our web site. Due to the slow internet connection here in Amman, we have been unable to do this yet. We apologize and will continue trying to get this information posted until we succeed.

Unfortunately, we are still far from having enough money to open the doors of this much needed resource for the community here. If you haven't yet contributed, please consider doing so now.

We are asking that only 300 people in each of the US 50 states each pitch in only $10. Please help make this happen. If you have already contributed, please tell your friends and those on your mailing groups and lists about this opportunity to do something tangible to improve the lives of Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

We only recently received the list of individual donors from our partner in this venture, LIFE for Relief & Development. Mary has returned to the US now because of family illness and you will be receiving a personal thank you as soon as she can find the time during this distressing personal situation. We thank you for your understanding and patience as well as your contributions.

in peace & action,
Sasha, Mary and the Amman Team

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.

Please consider making a tax deductible donation today.
Even your small contribution will make a big difference to those who have so little.