Friday, February 20, 2009

"Every person in Iraq was always happy - even when things were rough - because we belonged there; it was our country" - Feb 18 09

We brought food assistance to Abu and Um Abdullah, Abu Abdullah's elderly mother, and the couple's two sons - Abdullah (age 12) and Omar (age 9). The family chatted with us, sitting on their sofa under an Iraqi flag.

Omar was home but Abdullah was out playing football with his friends. Abu Abdullah showed us his photo.

The family fled Baghdad to Jordan in 2005 after a notice was pasted on their door, warning them that, if they did not leave, one of their sons would be abducted. Abu Abdullah says, "In Iraq now, there are gangs and thugs everywhere."

Young Omar is traumatized by all the carnage and violence that he witnessed in Iraq. His father tells us that sometimes, out of the blue, Omar breaks down and starts sobbing uncontrollably.

Like most Iraqi families, this family has endured deaths of loved ones. Maha whispers an aside to me in English: "Abu Abdullah's brother was recently killed by militia but his mother does not know so they cannot speak about it in front of her" Another brother died of a heart attack when militia entered his home and were shooting.

Abu Abdullah told us that their life was much better in Iraq before the war forced them to leave. He owned a bakery. They were happy...

"Every person in Iraq was always happy - even when things were rough - because we belonged there - it was our country"

Abu Abdullah has had 3 surgeries on his knee and needs another. He cannot stand for any length of time so he cannot even work illegally. His mother has diabetes. They are luckier than some others we meet on this day; their medications and surgeries are being paid for by an aid organization.

Their rent 70JD and they pay another 20 JD for utilities. They show us where the ceiling in the kitchen begun to fall in during the heavy rains of last week. They have informed the landlord but he has not repaired it. They said that when they tell him about repairs that need to be done, he promises they will be fixed but they never are. However, he has been kind to them when they have fallen behind in paying their rent.

Abu Abdullah tells us, "If I were to say our life is good, I would be lying. But, al-hamdelelah! (Thanks be to God!)"

**We delivered food assistance to two other families on this day (in addition to the families below)**

"Before the war,..I never needed anyone's help - now I am begging for it" Feb 18 09

We intended to visit Nouryia in her home to take food assistance to her but instead we met with her in the home of her friend, Fatem. Fatem has taken Nouryia in to care for her for a while because she cannot care for herself. Nouryia has diabetes and suffers from severe back pain. She lays on a mat in the living room, unable to get up to visit with us. Whenever she shifts position on the mat, her face screws up in a grimace of pain.

Her medications cost 90JD per month. An aid organization had been paying for them but, because they have a 1000JD cap for each family and Nouryia has met it, they no longer pay. As a woman alone, she receives only 60JD per month cash assistance. Her rent is 50JD including utilities. How can she pay for medication when she cannot even afford to buy food?

Nouryia had been given a sewing machine Micro-Project last year and, when she is not in as much pain, she makes a little money from sewing for neighbors - sometimes as much as 30-40JD per month. When she can't work, she must rely on the kindness of others. It is impossible for her to go out to seek assistance when she is confined by pain though. She tells us that no one has helped her but Maha - that the Red Crescent will not help her because she is a single woman alone.

Nouryia left Baghdad in 2005 when she and her husband were threatened. They were told to leave their home or be killed. She is now divorced. Her relatives are all still in Iraq and do not have the means to help her financially.

She tells us, "Before the war we were happy and secure. I never needed anyone's help. Now I have some degree of security but I am begging for help. I am sick; my health is gone"

Fatem brings us cups of thick Arab coffee. She instructs us to turn our cups over onto the saucers when we finish our coffee and she will read the patterns made by the grounds. Her uncle taught her this skill when she was 14.

Fatem is married and has 8 children. But she has not seen them for years. She recalls years of domestic battering from her husband and tells us that large areas of her scalp have no hair from when he yanked it roughly while abusing her. She wanted a divorce but he refused. She finally could no longer take his beatings and fled from Iraq in 2001. Her husband would not allow her to bring her children. She told me, "I took two blankets with me and the pillow you are sitting against" She also brought her gold jewelry and sold it in order to open a small sewing shop in Amman.

Her shop provided her enough of an income to get by on. "I bought these carpets, this furniture"
But five years ago her shop was destroyed by an arsen fire. A note was attached to the door stated: "You Shi'ite! You infidel!"

"I watched my shop burning and was reminded of how he (her husband) beat me every day.
Now it is society that is beating me up"

Now she keeps in touch with her adult children by telephone and by sharing photos. Her husband has suffered a stroke. She tells us, "I told the children to take care of him - he is their father."

Fatem then reads our coffee cups and the predictions are all rosy: Maha will travel and she is strong, loved and respected; Lana's true love is only waiting for her to acknowledge him; and I will receive much money very soon. Her readings about each of us and our personal situations are uncannilly true so we entertain some faith that the predictions for our futures are, too. But for Nouryia and Fathem. the reality is that the future - just as it is now - will probably remain dark.

Send a letter urging President Obama to help Iraqi refugees

Dear President Obama,

Five million Iraqis have been uprooted from their homes and are living in desperate circumstances. By helping displaced Iraqis, the U.S. will help ensure a stable Iraq.

I urge you to craft a new U.S. policy to:

  1. Assist Iraqi refugees.
  2. Ensure a safe, voluntary return home when possible.
  3. Pressure Iraq to meet its responsibilities to its own people.
  4. Increase resettlement for those who can't go home.

Please show real leadership to resolve this humanitarian crisis.


Please add your signature to this letter HERE

"Our life was amazing before the war. Now we are always in pain..." Feb 18 09

Bushra welcomes us into her flat with a broad smile. Her only child, Mustafa (age 8) has to be coaxed out to receive the crayons and drawing tablet we brought him. Despite his shyness, he agrees to color a quilt square for me to bring back to the US and settles down on the carpet between us and his mother to color it. Bushra tells us that when he sees airplanes in the sky here he tells her, "Mama, look! Airplanes just like in the war!" She tells us "He is very nervous."

Bushra tells us that they left Iraq in 2003. Her husband had been a civilian employee with the Iraqi army. In the early de-Baathification era instituted under Bremer soon after the invasion, he was attacked and severely beaten. The family moved in with Bushra's sister for the month it took for him to recover well enough to travel out of Iraq.

She tells us, "Our life was amazing before the war! We were happy. Now we are always in pain, always worrying. Our health deteriorates because of our uncertain status. All we can do is think, think, think!"

Bushra has a thyroid condition. Her medications cost about 30JD per month. A large aid organization was paying for her prescription but no longer provide this assistance to her.

Bushra wants a Micro-Project. She has 10 years experience as a beauty operator and had 1 year of formal salon training when she lived in Iraq. She has been cutting hair for her friends and neighborsfor a few JD per cut. Bushra wants help getting a hood type hair dryer, a table for her supplies with attached mirror, and a swivel chair. She says she will get more customers if she can make a corner of her living room look like "a real salon". The cost for all of these items is about $500. We regretfully tell her that at this time we have had to suspend granting Micr0-Projects until we begin to receive more money from donations.

For now, we give Bushra a "salon bag" containing many beauty supplies that was donated to Collateral Repair Project by Debbie Rodriguez with Oasis Rescue. Bushra's easy smile widens as she explored the contents of the bag. She thanks Oasis Rescue and CRP donors.

At this time, all that we can provide to this family is a box of food assistance. We hope we can provide a Micro-Project for Bushra in the future to help her home salon become more profitable.

Please consider donating so that Collateral Repair Project can resume providing Micro-Projects to help families like Bushra's to bring in much needed income.

Sahar'a - Feb 18

Sahar'a and her youngest son Ahmed (age 16) live in a sparsely furnished flat. Her older son, Abdullah was caught working illegally at a shop 3 years ago. He was imprisoned for two months in Jordan and then sent back to Iraq. Now Ahmed works doing odd jobs when he can - mostly physical labor. He has not attended school since his brother was deported. Sahra'a tells us, "He is the only one bringing income in for us."

The 60 JD monthly cash grant the family receives can no way meet their most basic needs so young Ahmed must fill in the rest. Rent is 120JD including electricity and water. Sahar'a tells us that Maha paid her rent (through Iraqi donors funds) two months ago when they could not pay it.

Sahra'a was married but her husband was killed when he returned to Basra to visit family there. I asked if she knew who had murdered him and why. She does not know but speculates that it was because he was Sunna.

Her health is not good. She has chronic infection in her knees, disc problems in her back and artitus. To purchase all of the medications she needs cost another 30JD a month.

I ask her what she needs most right now and she immediately says "Resettlement". She cannot return to Iraq, her life here is brutally hard, her son has no future. Her sister has been resettled to Australia and Sahra'a hopes to join her.

Families have been irrevocably fractured - by death, by separation from those remaining in Iraq, and by continents. Iraqis value family and community more than most of the us in the West can understand. Having had to leave thier homes and communities and to now be willing - desperate even - to be relocated, proves only how desperate their situations have become.

We delivered food assistance to this family

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Will you help this family?

Our last visit of the day takes us into an impoverished neighborhood. We hurry past one angry young man throwing rocks at a window in an apartment above us and yelling.

Eman and Mohammed have four teenage children. The twin girls are 16. They have two brothers, one 18 years old and the other is 16.

The twins are very bright. They quit school at age 13 when they left Iraq in 2005. Even so, they both were able to speak some English with me - more than most children here who are taking English language at school - and they also taught themselves to speak Urdu because they had a friend who speaks it. Their smiles are bright despite their grim surroundings and circumstances.

The 18 year old son is away at his new job. He has been hired to pull a wagon to haul things for people for 3JD a day. He has been robbed twice; local thugs know who is working and who is vulnerable.

The youngest son, Mohammed, was working in a restaurant until he lost the ends of several of his fingers in a meat grinder a month ago. He shows us the healing fingers and his mother says that he avoids getting infection in them by cleaning them with Detol (a brand of antiseptic household cleaner)

Eman crochetes rough bath mitts from hemp and sells them to local merchants. She receives 1JD for every three mitts. She said that she can, on a good day when her hands aren't hurting, make three mitts. 1JD is equal to $1.40 - an abysmally low daily wage.

Mohammed is in obvious pain as he sits close to a small gasoline stove. He has severe arthritis as well as diabetes. An aid organization pays for the medications he needs - sometimes. Sometimes they just give him enough for a half month so he goes without part of the month. No matter how warm it is, the pain in his joints is unbearable. Even in the oppressive heat of summer, he cannot stand it for a fan to be on.

I asked how their lives are different than they were when they lived in Baghdad. Mohammed told us, "Of course, it was better. I owned my own house" He had a shop where he sold antiques. But the deteriorating security situation in Iraq in 2005 forced them to leave. Mohammed adds, "Even today Baghdad is not secure enough to live in."

Eman tells us that what is hardest about their situation now is, "Life in general"
She adds, "The children do not go to school, we have no house, no place to live. Nothing is easy. The children don't have a father (because of his illnesses) The money from selling our house in Baghdad is completely gone. Nothing is left."

We brought food assistance but the main reason Eman had contacted Maha is that she hopes she can be granted a Micro-Project. She has professional training as a seamstress and, if she can get an industrial sewing machine, she has been assured she can do contract work in her home for a local clothing manufacturer.

Because donations to our projects have dropped dramatically, Collateral Repair Project has had to regretfully suspend our Micro-Project program. But still, every day, Maha receives calls from Iraqis pleading for a Micro-Project. In cases like Eman's, we really see how a Micro-Project could improve this family's situation.

Last week, we met another family who we felt would very much benefit from a Micro-Project and we asked Code Pink NYC if they would dedicate all of the funds they raised at their CRP benefit to go towards helping this woman get her Micro-Project. They agreed and now Um Abdullah (read her story below) will be getting camera equipment to film weddings and parties.

We would love to be able to tell Eman that she will get an industrial sewing machine so she can bring in some much needed money for her family's support.

Wont you and your affinity group, faith group, co-workers, or friends pitch in to help Eman? $450 will buy her an industrial machine, an overlock machine and basic sewing equipment.
Please CONTACT US if you want to help!

Love lost and no future - Feb 16

We met Sana’a and her 3 young sons at her mother’s home. Sana’a and the boys recently moved “back home” with her mother, brother, and two sisters because her husband has become involved with another woman. That was the last straw. Sana’a is raw and weeps as she tells us how her husband’s family – Palestinians – treated her very badly, constantly telling her husband to divorce her. They were prejudiced against her because, as an Iraqi, the consider her a “foreigner”. Now she wants the divorce but he will not agree, telling her that he will take the boys from her if she pursues a divorce.

Sana’a has two years in university in Baghdad toward a degree in economics but she had to leave her studies behind when she fled Iraq. Her two adult sisters and brother are also well educated but sit at home, frustrated because they cannot work. Her brother has a degree In engineering and the only work he has been able to do is to wash dishes at an under the table job in a restaurant. He has not been paid and it appears this is another case of employer exploitation. He cannot go to the authorities to report this abuse because he will be punished for working illegally.

Sana’a just wants to work and take care of her family. As an just want legal status so I can work. I don’t care what country, I just want to work; I want legal status”Iraqi, she cannot legally work here. She tells us passionately, “I just want legal status so I can work. I don’t care what country, I just want to work; I want legal status”

She desperately wants to be resettled but it is unlikely that she would be able to take her sons if she was granted resettlement to another country. Her husband will not agree to a divorce and he certainly will not agree to allow her to take their children out of the country. She loves her boys tremendously and cannot fathom leaving them behind.

Sana’a breaks down often during our visit. Her sisters play with the boys, distracting them from their mother’s pain and giving her a break from their demands. The family members are obviously mutually supportive of one another. Her mother sits near her, telling us that, before they were married, she told Sana’a’s husband that she did not want gold or other riches - all she wanted was to know her daughter would be loved. Her pain at seeing her daughter suffer is evident.

The stress of living as refugees with an uncertain future, having suffered trauma in Iraq and now, trying to make it day to day with insufficient resources takes its toll on families. What was once perhaps tolerable becomes unbearable. Relationships become strained and with day after day of this, it is easy to lose hope or have the energy to create solutions.

The family only receives 140JD per month from NHCR and their rent is 100JD. Things are tight. Now there are four more mouths to feed so the food assistance we leave will help.

"Now I'm alone, trying to provide for my family and having to beg for help" - Feb 16

Today we set out to visit three families we will deliver food assistance to. The first is Abdulwadod and his wife, Asma. They have three children - twins girls, age 7 and a 5 year old son. The children were all still at school when we visited but their parents proudly showed us their photos.

They little in a humble but clean little flat. We entered and were invited to sit one of the two twin beds in the tiny living room space that becomes the bedroom at night.

They receive 170JD per month UNHCR cash grant. Their rent is 120JD per month. Despite the great hardship it causes, they scrimp to send the children to a private school. Abdulwadod tells us "This is a bad neighborhood. The worse the neighborhood, the worse the schools are. I just can't let my kids go there" (to the local public school)

Many parents tell us their children are bullied so harshly in some public schools - mostly in the poorest areas - that the children refuse to continue to go. Classrooms are overcrowded and teachers struggle to teach classes where many of the children suffer from PTSD and some have missed several years of school. Iraqi children cannot attend Jordanian schools once they reach age 16.

Like so many of the parents we meet, Asma and Abdulwadod take their kids' education very seriously. Living in such insecurity, they are especially aware that they must do all that they can to try to prepare their children, the best they can, for the future - even though they do not know what the future will bring. Parents sacrifice and the children take their educations very seriously. The couple tell us that all three of the children are good students.

In summer, Abdulwadod does under the table painting work sometimes. But it's seasonal work and there is none in winter. They get by but it is a struggle.

Abdulwadod was a painter in Baghdad. He and his four brothers all worked together. But now, three are detained in American custody in Camp Bucca. One had been found by US forces in an Iraqi jail and had been brutalized before found. Some others found in the jail had holes drilled in their legs. He has been in Camp Bucca for three years.

Two other brothers were also picked up and incarcerated at Bucca - one has been detained for 2 1/2 years, the other almost 2 years. Two of the brothers have 5 small children between them. When I asked how they are being supported now that their fathers are imprisoned, Abdulwadod tell us that they are now forced to live on donations.

None of the three have any charges against them. Abdulwadod tells us that the camp officials told them that they believe them innocent but, because of the large prison population and bureaurocracy, they cannot release them yet.

Abdulwadod and his family fled Iraq in 2005 after three assasination attempts against him. Another of his brothers was murdered. Abdulwadod is a religious man and he said that, in the past, before the US invasion, "if you were a little religious and had a long beard, you might be taken into custody, questioned and then you'd be released. But now, there is killing. We never had killing before."

I asked what is the hardest part of their lives now. His response was sadly typical: "Everything. I have never been faced with so much difficulty. The hardest thing is asking for help. In Iraq, we were five brothers working together. Now I am alone and I am trying to provide for my family and having to beg for help."

We left a large box of staple foods and crayons and coloring books for their children.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Kid's Valentine's Day Party - Feb 14

Maha's son, Mustafa, one of his friends, and Maha's daughter Zuzu help decorate before the party

30 children and their moms attended. The party was utter chaos and terrific time was had by all!

The children played "pin the tail on the donkey" for the first time ever...

The expression on this boy's face tells you what a hit it was

then some of the moms joined in!

Of course, Maha and I had to join in!

We also played 'musical chairs' which everyone was familiar with. The kids played...

as well as their mothers!

and everybody was a winner - every child got a prize

It's not a party unless you have cake...

As the party wound down and most of the happy guests had left, some of the kids gave our game donkey a make-over

and they colored some quilt squares that I will bring back with me to the US to be made into quilts to be exhibited and auctioned to raise funds for our projects.

The girls drew hearts and flowers and the boys drew spiders, ambulances and airplanes

At last every balloon had been popped and the party ended

These children (and their parents) rarely have a day of pure enjoyment.
Thank you for making this possible for them.

A special thanks to Lana - for all of her help in preparation, explaining the games to the kids, for most of the photos above, and for being a general good sport!