Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wounded Children

We first met Fakir and his family in late summer 2008 when we provided Fakir with a micro-project of tools he needed to make his intricate and graceful art plaques.

One day, when doing a follow-up visit, his two daughters showed us a letter they had written to UNHCR that brought tears to our eyes and compelled us to take a special interest in helping this family overcome some of their many obstacles. His daughters' letter began, "All over the world, children love their childhoods; they are supposed to love them" and continued, "but we hate ours." The two girls then wrote of the many challenges they faced and made a plea for help.

All four children were traumatized during the initial invasion in 2003 and suffer involuntary incontinence as a result. Their parents had taken them to a doctor in Amman and was told that they were "misbehaving"! With the frustration of dealing with a home that smelled of urine, inadequate laundry (and even water to do laundry with), as well as his own depression, Fakir had been punishing the kids after hearing this "diagnosis". Our first step was to let him know that this was not intentional behavior and then to find solutions. Some CRP supporters sent funds for thin, easier to launder blankets, waterproof bed pads, and sheets. Some in the medical community offered advice which we passed along. We encouraged the parents to show loving understanding with their children in order to lessen the stress that only increased their incontinence.

We brought special gifts for these kids who have endured so much - new tops and a toy each

At that time, all of the children had left school. Other students teased and bullied them and the older boy was afraid to even go onto the streets because bullies had assaulted him. Even their teachers had ridiculed them about their incontinence - one of their teachers actually held her nose in disgust when the child walked by and the other students in her class followed her example.

Fakir's kids were vulnerable to this sort of abuse for other reasons, too. Iraqi children are taunted and bullied just because they are Iraqi. Jordan is primarily Sunna and Fakir's family is Shia. Being from the southern part of Iraq, they are also very dark skinned. This type of abuse occurs most often in some of the poorer areas of Amman. Finally, in frustration and with the intention of protecting his children, Fakir had pulled the kids out of school.

We knew that an education was important if these kids were to be able to overcome the many obstacles they face. They wanted to attend school. We worked with them on strategies to counter bullying and helped with new shoes, book bags and school supplies. They enrolled in diferent schools than they attended before and have remained in school.

On our recent visit, they told us that the daytime incontinence has improved greatly - the kids are no longer wetting themselves although they must still leave the classroom to use the restroom frequently. Their teachers know that they must be allowed to use the restroom more frequently than the other students. But recently both of the older children had been refused when they asked to be excused. One child obeyed and wet herself. The other left the classroom to avoid wetting himself and was punished for disobeying. One of the children is so upset that she wants to leave school again.

I will make appointments to visit both schools, letting the staff know that I am an interested friend of the children who is invested in their education and ask that we discuss together how we can all best facilitate the children's success in school. I hope that this has some effect. These are bright kids with a tough road ahead of them if they do not continue their educations.

The damage of war extends far beyond the battlefields. Many of its youngest victims carry their wounds inside them. These wounds do not heal as readily as those to the body. We must do everything we can to heal these deep wounds but it is challenging when these children are wounded again and again after leaving the war zone.

no recourse but to run - March 25 09

As we rode in the taxi to make food assistance deliveries today, Maha told me that one of the families we know has a grave problem.

The only daughter, a young woman, recently took a job in a clothing shop. She only worked a few days when the owner's brother (and buyer for the shop) asked the girl to make coffee for him. When she went into the back room to put the coffee on, he followed her inside and then shoved her against the wall, pulling her blouse open so hard that the buttons popped off. As she cried and tried to cover herself, he pulled out his cell phone and video-taped her.

Of course, she left the job immediately.

When her parents complained, the owner did not care that her brother had abused and traumatized this young woman. The shop had paid her wages for the month of 150JD in advance. Instead, the owner insisted that she return the wages. The family had already spent the money to pay bills.

Now this man has threatened to release the video on the internet and to his friends if the family does not pay him 100JD. He says that this incident has caused problems for him with his wife and he wants the money to compensate him for this!

Maha offers to give the family the money to return the wages from the Iraqi donor funds. She tells the mother that it is not wise to pay the money the man is demanding because it is unlikely that this would keep him from demanding more although he "swears on his honor on the Quran" that he will destroy the video once he is paid. I know Maha is right.

This situation highlights the vulnerability of Iraqis in Jordan. As illegal "temporary guests" of Jordan, if victim of crime or abuse, they cannot go to the authorities. The perpetrators are never apprehended and involving authorities usually means that the Iraqi will be hassled, threatened, imprisoned or made to return to Iraq. In this particular case, since the girl was working illegally, she would probably be arrested for her employment while her abuser remains free.

Maha suggests that the family contact UNHCR about expediting their case for resettlement to get away from this situation and risk of further abuse and blackmail. I will include this family on the list I will take to UNHCR to see if they are taking it seriously and are moving to get this family out of Jordan quickly.

An education sacrificed - Food Assistance March 12 09

Wafa'a met our taxi on the busy street near the old Amman downtown and led us down a narrow alleyway to her doorway. Inside, her fourteen year old daughter, Noor, waited with the entryway locked and struggled inside to open the stiff latch when Wafa'a banged on the door. Wafa'a explained that the neighborhood is mostly men and she is concerned about her daughter's safety.

We entered a shabby small courtyard that had a small kitchen area inside one door and another door leading to their combination living and sleeping space. They do not receive a cash grant from UNHCR and Wafa'a cleans houses to pay the 40JD a month rent and for their food. She tells us that "sometimes" her daughter helps her to clean the houses.

Wafa'a will have surgery on her knee in a week but will not be able to work for the month following the operation and does not know what they will do. They are six months behind in their rent now.

Her daughter sat on a sleeping mat near us with a small pile of school books. We asked if she was attending school and her Wafa'a tells us that she recently dropped out. "I can't send her to school. She needs 1JD every day for transportation and money for books. I am tired and my health is bad so she had to stop going."

We tried to suggest some solutions that might allow Noor to return to school and her mother hushed us, telling us that it will only make Noor unhappy to think about returning to school when she cannot. I can't help but think that Wafa'a needs Noor to work and is reluctant to have her return to school. She tells us Noor studies on her own. I am saddened that this young girl will not get the education she needs and wants obviously wants very badly.

Their meager belongings were in piles lined up along the walls. There was an old tv set but Wafa'a told us that it did not work. I wondered what they did in the evenings in this one room. She told us, "I am so tired when I come home after cleaning houses that I only want to sleep"

Food assistance for Kasem and his family - March 12 09

Kasem and his wife, Zaineb have two sons - Mohammed - 12 and 6 year old Thualfekir.

Kasem is an artist - a graduate of a cultural university - and their flat is filled with his paintings. He's set up his easel outside the door to their flat on an interior balcony.

They fled Baghdad in 2006 after Kasem was severely injured from a suicide bomb and militia attack. He and four other artist friends were walking down the street in Karada on, as Kasem told us, "the most famous day when there were five car bombs". Kasem and one of his friends escaped with only bullet wounds. (one of those bullets is still lodged in his leg). The three others were killed in the attack. The family left Iraq a month later when Kasem had healed enough to travel.

They have been told that they will resettle soon to the US. They hope it is very soon as they sold all of their furniture and belongings to have the money to move to their current apartment and to pay two months' rent. The rent is a modest 150JD per month but they cannot pay this with the 100JD they receive as their monthly grant from UNHCR. If they are not resettled by the time these two months have passed, they are not sure what they will do.

I asked Kasem how things in Iraq were different between before the invasion and its current state.

"Things were bad for all the years. They were bad under Saddam
but they are much worse now"

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thanks to you 50 more families will eat for a month - March 14 09

Maha and I went shopping, comparing prices for the best deals and making sure each family would get as much nutritious food as possible in their assistance boxes. The market kindly (and at no charge!) packages each box for us and delivers them to Maha's flat where the pile threatens to overtake her kitchen!

Now we are ready to make home deliveries to the most needy. You'll be reading these families' tragic stories in upcoming blog posts.
Please consider contributing to insure more Iraqi refugee families have enough to eat

Um Abdullah receives her Micro-Project because CODE PINK NYC showed their LOVE

On February 12 CODE PINK NYC held a MAKE OUT NOT WAR benefit to raise funds to provide a Micro-Project for Um Abdullah. Not only did this terrific group of dedicated activists and merry-makers have an incredibly LOVEly time but also shared their love with Um Abdullah and her 5 children and raised $850 - enough to buy Um Abdullah the video equipment she wanted to be able to make help support her family.
(see Um Abdullah's story, "We Want Security..." HERE - midway down page)

The funds arrived in Amman and we took Um Abdullah shopping at the super-sized mall here to buy most of her equipment. She and her daughter were both very ill from the diabetes they both (as well as Um Abdullah's young son) suffer from but they still had a great time getting their dream fullfilled. The next day, she met us at Maha's apartment to pick up the video camera we had to order.

Now Um Abdullah and her two eldest daughters have what they need to make money taking portraits and video-taping and photographing weddings and other special occasions.


Pulling together, we can show our love for other struggling Iraqi refugees and make big changes in their lives. If you with your peace & justice, faith community or other affinity group would like to raise
funds for a specific family, please