Monday, February 2, 2009

"We thank God every day"

Ali looks tired - worn down by his troubles. He looks quietly desperate, too. It is easy to understand why.

Ali, his wife and their 2 youngest children fled Iraq in 2005 when Iranian Shia militia threatened them with death if they did not leave their government-owned rental house. Ali and his family are Sunna. With the borders to Iran unprotected after the US invasion, the south where Basra lies - already with a large percentage of Shia sympathetic to Iran - became even more so. Ali tells us that, before the invasion, there were many Shia and Sunna living side-by-side with no problems between them but now, the Iranian Shia are the problem.

Ali was an ambulance driver in Iraq. He has not worked since he entered Jordan. They receive a monthly cash grant from UNHCR of 170JD. Their rent for a one-room apartment is 65JD. This is one of the very lowest rent catagories and I can guess the appalling condition of their apartment by others I have seen that rent at this rate. Ali, his wife and three children - Mustafa (16), Sumyah (8 years), and 2 year old Omar all live in this one room.

Sumyah attends school but Mustafa only attended three months of school this year because, once an Iraqi refugee child reaches age 16, he is ineligible to attend free public school here. Instead, he now works 7 days a week, 8 hours a day at a small market. His wages are 25 JD per week. He looks much younger than his age and it is hard to imagine that this young boy carries such a burden.

But Ali is here because he is desperate that his daughter get medical help. He tells us that she has "Wolf infection" and shows us scanned copies of photos of her. Since giving birth to her first child 4 months ago her health has rapidly degenerated. Huge patches of her hair is falling out, she is weak and dizzy. Sometimes she bleeds from her mouth. He said that this may damage her liver, cause heart problems and brain damage. Ali tells us that the doctors in Basra say they cannot treat her and there is no cure. Now, he said, she called today to tell him that she has a tumor in her mouth.

Ali looks worried and mentions the high number of cancers in Basra since the use of Depleted Uranium in weaponry by the US - first during the Gulf War and then again, in the invasion.

Ali was able to procure a visa for Zaineb and her husband to come to Jordan to seek treatment and they will stay in Ali's already crowded home while they are here.

He hopes that his daughter's life can be saved. He promises he will bring her to meet us and we promise to try to help - insha'allah (God willing) - if we can.

"I found myself beating my children because they were crying about being cold"

Maha received a lengthy text message last night from Neda, a mother of three living in Salt, a town just outside of Amman. She apologized for having to ask but said that her family had no heater and that she lost control and beat her children when they cried because they were cold. She feels horrible for losing control. She wondered, "Is there any way you can help me?"

So, while Maha and I were at the market today picking up the food relief boxes, we bought Neda's family a propane heater. After unloading the food boxes at Maha's, we took the long taxi ride out to Salt to deliver it to Neda.

The drive to Salt was a lovely reprieve from Amman. Amman has few trees but the road to Salt was mountainous and forrested in areas. The views were stunning. Just before we enter Salt, the taxi driver points out the area that is an exclusive community for members of the Jordanian royal family. Anyone wishing to build a home in this area must first receive permission. But, as we drive deeper into Salt, the road narrows and the shops that line them are shabby.

The roads wind up along a high hillside. Maha is on her cell phone with Neda, getting directions for the driver and he drives down a narrow lane, stopping when we need Neda and her two youngest children standing at the side of the road waiting for us.

We follow a trail up the hillside, past ancient buildings that are in poor repair but are homes for those who live in this impoverished area. Neda and her children carry the heater almost until we reach their home and a neighbor man offers to take it the rest of the way.

The kids run off to play in the last daylight while Maha and I drink coffee Neda serves us and discuss her family's situation.

Neda, her husband and children came to Jordan in 2001. They were both secondary teachers at a prestigious school in Mosul, Iraq, but sanctions had reduced their wages to only $2 for each of them per month. Neda said "We could not even afford to buy socks." So first her husband came to Jordan with Neda and the children following soon afterwards.

At first, things were better. In those times, before the US invasion and the exodus of Iraqis to Jordan, Iraqis were welcomed here and Neda's husband's employer was able to successfully apply for him to get Jordanian residency. So he is able to work legally. He is under-employed, working as a laborer in a furniture-making shop. His wages are 75 JD per month - only enough to pay their rent of 70JD. Neda worked for a few months as a paid volunteer with an aid organization but this was a temporary job and she was laid off. Their furniture was provided by the generosity of neighbors. Neda's mother sends a little money to help out but most of the time they struggle to make it month-to-month.

She is proud of her children, telling us that all three attend school, walking down the mountain to attend and then up at the end of the day every day.

Neda returned to Mosul three months ago in hope of getting her teaching position back but she had been away for too long and her file had been deleted from the Ministry of Education there.
She said that things in Mosul are very bad now: there is no water, no electricity, no heating fuel. Prices are high and income is low. The infrastructure is in shambles because, as it deteriorates, no repairs are done. She said, "The people are sad and tired."

She then shows us through their simple home - the one bedroom shared by the entire family, the tiny kitchen. Neda proudly shows us framed photos of her chidren.

Maha points to a photo on a high shelf. It is Neda when she was a teacher. Her face unlined and smiling, unlike her face now, lined with worry and dark around her eyes.

The view from her living room is stunning but the mountain air is even colder than that in chilly Amman. We take heart knowing that the family will be warmer now because of your generosity.

February: CRP will deliver food assistance packages to needy Iraqi families

Yesterday Maha and I went to a large supermarket that has discounted prices and chose the selection of items that we will include in the staple food relief boxes we will deliver to 50 Iraqi families this month. We chose: rice, pastas, powdered milk, oil, canned meats, cheese, canned vegetables, sugar and tea. We made arrangements with the market for them to put together the 50 boxes in two sizes - one for small families and another for larger ones. The larger boxes cost $30; for smaller families the cost is $17.

Today we went to the market to pay for the boxes and watched as the clerks loaded them onto a truck and delivered them to us.

Now Maha's kitchen, jokingly called "Maha Mall" because at least half of it usually is filled with bags and boxes of good used clothing for Iraqi refugees, is "Maha Market"with the food assistance boxes stacked along one wall.

Tomorrow we will begin distribution to needy families.

Late in summer 2008, UNHCR stopped providing food assistance and instead, slightly raised the monthly cash slightly - less than 5JD (under $7) per person in the household. This increase is meant to pay for food in leiu food assistance. The cash increase is not adequate to provide good nutrition for families - especially since cost of goods have risen this past year as they have globally. In addition, a family crisis such as a health emergency or high utility bill can devastate the meager budget of a family, leaving them with no money to pay for food.

We also be purchasing infant formula to distribute this month. Many mothers cannot breastfeed because stress and anxiety interfere with their ability to produce enough milk to feed their infants. The cost of formula to feed one baby for one month is an astounding $70 per month! Of course, this is beyond the ability of most families and children risk poor nutrition as the mothers may water down formula to make it go further.

The need for this assistance is overwhelming. We hope you will consider making a contribution of any amount to help us to feed more hungry families. Your contributions are fully tax deductible.

To donate go to: