Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Why did you make me Iraqi? If I'd known this would be our life, I would never chosen to be born" - Food & Clothing Assistance - Feb 27 09

Maha called me early in the day and asked me to hurry to her apartment. We had not scheduled any visits because it was Friday - the holy day and "weekend" here - but Maha told me that when she woke, she turned up the volume on her cell phone and found she had four calls from the same number already. Maha dialed the number to see who had called and a woman answered and introduced herself as Nadhira. She said she had come by bus from the distant area of al-Mugar and had been waiting in the cold for over an hour. She needed food for her family.

Her husband had been working as a shop helper but he recently underwent two heart surgeries and could no longer work. They began receiving UNHCR monthly cash assistance only two months ago.

Nadhira and her husband, Jabber have five children - all girls except their youngest, 11 year old Hussein. She tells us that her eldest daughter, Saja - age 22, was very bright. Through the generosity of a Palestinian lawyer who paid her tuition, Saja attended college last term. She loved it and her heart was broken when the donor told her that she would not be paying her tuition any longer because she was now sending money to assist people in Gaza. Nadhira said that Saja is terribly depressed. She told her mother, "Why did you make me love to study and want to succeed when I cannot attend school?"

Many Iraqi children face this same brutal disappointment. The Iraqi education system was the best in the region before the US invasion. Many - females as well as males - took advantage of the system that provided free education from elementary through university. When I ask Iraqi kids what they want to be when they grow up, they typically respond quickly that they wish to become doctors or engineers or name other professional careers. They never tell me that they want to become "a fireman" or "secretary". Receiving a degree in higher education was expected as a matter of course by many. Now, as refugees, most parents cannot afford to pay for their famiy's basic living expenses and paying for university in Jordan is impossible.

Nadhira tells us that the hardest thing for her about their situation is that, as a mother, she cannot give her children what they want or even need. She tells us that when her children ask her why they can't have things that other children around them have, she once told them, "We are Iraqi and cannot afford them." Hussein replied, "Why did you make me Iraqi? If I'd known this would be our life, I never would have chosen to be born."

We gave Nadhira a Food Assistance box. She also took two large size garbage bags filled with donated clothing for her family.

As a US citizen and seeing daily how much my country has taken from Iraqis and their children, sometimes I feel embarassment that we can only offer food and second-hand clothing most of the time. It is so little compared to what has been lost.