Friday, April 10, 2009

Orphan Day 2009 - continued (see previous post below)

Nada and her three children live in a one-room apartment with a tiny attached kitchen on the top story of a shabby building. Despite their deep poverty, Nada tries to make their humble apartment a cheery home for her children. As we stopped to catch our breath after the long climb up the stairs, we were greeted by several pots of bright flowers. There was a garland of dried yellow blossoms hanging near the entryway inside. Nada said her daughters had made it when they went on a school picnic. Inside, the small room that was both living room and bedroom for the four was tidy and homey.

Nada, her husband and children fled Iraq together in 2006 after her husband had been kidnapped. Nada asked the two youngest children - 10 year old Ab'rarr and her brother, Zaid, 8 - to go outside to the rooftop balcony to play for a minute. She quietly told us, "When the militia came to our house to take their father, they destroyed everything in the house and they beat us. I don't want to remind them of these things." She continued, "The militia took him away and then called and asked us to pay a certain amount; we argued but then I paid and they released him"

Nada told us that they spent all their money to pay the ransom and then to escaped to Jordan together in 2006. A month later, her husband went back to Baghdad alone to try to get some money he was owed. He was kidnapped again and she agreed that they would pay the ransom. The voice on the other end of the phone told her that they would call her to set up an 'appointment' to get the ransom. They never called again and her husband was killed. She tells us, "That was two years and seven months ago."

Now the militia have taken over her husband's shop and their home. They had put an advertisement in the local paper which stated that they "..made a contract to 'buy' the house and if the owner disagrees he has one month to come forward or he will forfeit the house" Of course they knew he was dead when they wrote this.

12 year old Aaraf sits solemnly listening, sadness seems a part of her being. She suffers from kidney disease. She is shy and blushes easily when I ask her what she remembers about Iraq. She answers in a small voice, "I miss everything in Iraq." Despite missing a year of school because they did not have their documents with them when they arrived in Jordan, she does well in school now and blushes again as her mother proudly told us that she is the head of the student council.

Nada tells us that Ab'rarr often cries wanting to go back to Iraq to see her grandfather who she loves and misses greatly. She has anemia.

Life is challenging here for this young mother and her children. Nada is Palestinian by ancestry so she herself does not qualify for the UNHCR cash assistance for Iraqi refugees but her children do. I asked how much they receive and Nada told me that they were receiving 120JD ($168) per month but then the UNHCR began distributing the cash grants through ATM cards that were given to families so they could withdraw the funds directly rather than having to go to designated NGOs to pick up cash. Because Nada is "Palestinian", the UNHCR put the ATM card in her eldest daughter's name. But when they took the card to the bank to activate it in their system, the bank refused to activate the card in a minor child's name. For eight months they had no income at all until they were able to straighten this out between UNHCR and the bank.
They did not receive the past months' grant after their card was finally activated - only 150JD ($310). Now their grant has gone down and is only 110JD ($154). They have very little left to buy food and other necessities after paying the 65JD rent and utilities. Nada is only 36 but sadness and the exhaustion of trying to provide for her children with so little make her appear older.

Nada brought out an album and showed us photos of their family while they lived in Iraq, before the US invasion - when the children still had their father and their lives were very comfortable. Now they've lost their home, their livelihood and the man who loved and protected them.