Sunday, February 15, 2009

"We need anything you can help us with" - Feb 12

Maha receives calls from Iraqis wanting assistance every day, from the time she wakens until very late at night. Sometimes they just come to her home. Maha always invites them in and listens to them tell her their problems and hear their needs.

This morning I go to Maha's flat to meet before we go out for the day and Abu Ali drops in. It is a chilly day but he wipes perspiration from his forehead as he talks. He speaks quietly, keeping his eyes downward much of the time. It is evident that he has a hard time asking for assistance. He tells us that he has diabetes and then about his family. After a while, he lets us know why he has come: Ali and his wife and four adult children need "anything you can help us with".

We are glad that we are able to provide him with food assistance through your generosity.

Maha told me about another man whose family had been referred to her for assistance. During December, she had called him and other families to come to her flat to pick up food assistance packages. When this man arrived, he would not come to her apartment; he called her from down the street and asked that the food be brought to him. When Maha went to meet him, he was wearing a hat and large sunglasses that hid his face. She asked him why he would not come to the flat to pick up his food. He replied, "I was wealthy in Iraq and now I have nothing. I do not want anyone to see me begging for charity."

Maha informed him that her family had also been wealthy in Iraq "but now our situation has changed. We were the ones who used to give to charities at home and now we are forced to accept it ourselves." She tries to convince him that the other Iraqis in her home to pick up their food assistance are all in the same situation and no one will judge him poorly but he refuses to enter so she gives him his food at the curb and he leaves.

I remember when Mary and I were in Amman last summer and Maha invited us to go with her to a UNHCR food distribution center where she volunteered. (***note: Since then, UNHCR has discontinued food distribution and has, instead, increased the small monthly cash grant to Iraqi refugee families by approximately $14 per month. Corruption was strife in the food distribution program and giving families money instead better ensures that food assistance gets to those who need it) Maha introduced us to some of the recipients as she passed out food relief boxes to them. One I particularly recall was an elderly man, a man with obvious dignity despite his over-worn clothing. She told me he was a doctor in Iraq but now, as a refugee, he cannot work in Jordan. We meet many former professionals whose careers and livelihoods were destoyed and who are now counting on charity to survive.

Think about it. Think how you would feel if you lost everything you now have - your home and everything in it and your career; what if you were forced by war and the violence insueing from it to flee to another country and leave everything behind? Your savings have run out, you have no credit cards and even paying rent on a slum apartment is impossible. You have been traumatized by loss of loved ones and colleagues by violence and your health and that of your children is faltering but you have no way to pay for treatment and what programs for assistance exist are over-taxed and can only help a few of those that need them. You must beg and plead constantly in order that your needs may be heard and to hope you will be helped. How would you feel?

Iraqis are no different than we are. Our senses of dignity and self are the same. Their sense of obligation to care for their families are the same as ours.

It is hard to accept charity when once, not so long ago, you were self-reliant and, in fact, helped others from what you had. It is hard to look into the eyes of others and feel good about yourself when asking for help - especially for the most basic need, to eat. It is even harder to face your children when you've tried everything but still cannot provide them food and other things that they need, even after begging.

UPDATE: Code Pink NYC has agreed that proceeds from their benefit for CRP will go for a Micro-Project for Um Abdullah ***see previous post***