Sunday, February 15, 2009

in "crazy debt" - Feb 9

Maha, Lana and I started out in the morning to deliver food assistance to four families. Our first stop was in Marka to visit with Um Sara. Her husband, Mohammed, was out. The couple has 8 children ranging from 19 years old to the youngest, only 2 years old.

Um Sara had called Maha to ask for any assistance available. Mohammed had a heart attack a few weeks before and has been unable to go to his low-paying job working in a date shop part-time. Even when he can work, he never brings in enough to pay for their rent, utilities and food. They are several months behind on their rent. Now the doctor has told him he cannot do anything physical for at least one more month. Um Sara laments, "We are in crazy debt!"

They are not alone in being in this position; so many families we talk with are also getting further and further behind in paying for their basic needs. It is not because they are squandering their money - it is just because their resources are woefully inadequate and, especially when an emergency such as doctor bills or the need to pay for prescriptions arise, hard choices must be made.

Fortunately, landlords in the Middle East tend to be more understanding of their tenants with financial challenges than are those in the west. They may scream and threaten eviction, but they often allow families to stay in the home. We have encountered cases where the landlord begins storing his personal items in the home, taking a room and locking his things in it. It is natural that landlords check on the status of the unpaid rent - this can mean many phone calls every day to the tenant - the stress of getting these calls and not being able to provide any assurance when they can catch up on their rent is dreadful for these families. Um Sara apologizes for the chaos of the bedroom when we are invited to see the rooms in the flat, tears rise to her eyes as she explains, "I can't seem to get it together to keep things clean with all that's on my mind"

The stress of living in deep poverty, piled on top of the traumas suffered in Iraq and the pain of displacement push Iraqis into despair. Many are coping but not well. Stress-related health issues arise and compounds their situations. These stressors can, in some families, cause tempers to flare and arguments between spouses. Or, such as in this case, they can feel overwhelmed and helpless. There are not enough programs to provide mental health care to very many parents and their families despite the obvious need for it.

Unless we address the underlying essential reasons for this stress, no amount of funding for programs to address it will ever have enough effect. Living as non-citizens and without the ability to control and create the means to improve their lives and plan for a future is the problem. Jordan cannot assimilate such a huge influx of people into its social and employment infrastructure. Most Iraqis cannot return home to Iraq. Resettlement to third countries is only available to a small percentage of the total refugee population and, for those accepted, the process is painfully slow.

Although the plight of displaced Iraqis have disappeared from the press and is buried under the propaganda that security in Iraq has improved, nearly 5 million Iraqis remain without home and the basic security of a roof and enough to eat. We, as citizens of the US whose government, in our names, invaded Iraq and provoked this situation must understand that it is our pressing responsibility to do whatever we can to alleviate it. It is our own "crazy debt" that only increases as time passes and as nothing changes for families displaced by war.

We gave Um Sara and her family food assistance and help paying the past-due electric bill.

Please consider donating to Collateral Repair Project so that we, in your name, can continue to provide assistance and relieve some of the distress of Iraqi refugees in Amman.

Donate HERE