Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Heartfelt Words

The words below were written by Robin - a US citizen I met in Amman in early 2008. Robin was introduced to me by a mutual Iraqi friend who kept insisting that I must meet her friend, "an American married to an Iraqi". When I finally met Robin and her husband, I fell in love with them both and they have become my dear "brother" and "sister".

Robin has a unique perspective on this crisis. She married Omar - an Iraqi refugee without legal status in Jordan - in fall of 2007. Robin lived with her husband, immersed in the refugee community as a part of it. She was not a member of the NGO community but only a woman who happened to find love with a man who happened to be Iraqi and a refugee.

Robin wrote the letter below to send out to her friends and family when she forwarded our recent UPDATE (read it below Robin's words) to them.

I am often brought to tears when I visit families and hear first-hand their horrifying stories but I rarely cry any longer over the general situation for Iraqi refugees. Robin's letter brought tears to my eyes. I am sharing it with you now because I hope you will hear her heartfelt words and take them to your own heart. Robin understands - better than most people can - the pain of Iraqi refugees and how CRP responds to it.

Robin lives in Louisiana (thus her references to 'Cajuns') now as she had to return to the USA to care for her elderly mother. Omar waits in Amman - with no more rights than any other refugee there - for his visa to join his wife. Myriad complications in this process have kept this loving couple apart for close to a year and they are still uncertain when they can be together again.

From Robin - with her permission:

Hello dear friends and family,

This is the project that I was telling you all about. Sasha is a dear friend I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know while I lived in Jordan. I have seen, and lived, what this project is all about. They truly bring hope to a situation that is very desperate.

Iraqi people are just like us Cajuns...open hearts, open doors, and will give you the last crumb off the table before eating it themselves, even if they are starving. They love with all of their hearts and are so passionate and unabashed about it. They considered me their sister wherever I went...and they MEANT it.

To read that their passion is dying out...being drained because of the conditions they live in, breaks my heart. Their 'joie de vive' or joy for life was all they had left and now that is being taken away too? These are innocent victims of a war they did not ask for. For those of you who think Iraq had any part in 9/11, you're wrong. Research it, learn about it, but please do not make assumptions simply because you do not understand a culture that is different or a religion that is not your own. Islam, TRUE Islam, teaches peace and love for all....don't let the radicals turn your hearts against them all. We, as Christians, should know better than to judge..only God can do that. Unfortunately, all too often, that is exactly what we do because of the fanatacism and stupidity of a few....and I speak of this from both sides.

More than anyone, Cajuns should understand how important culture is and appreciate the differences. I ask you all to please take a look at this project and find it in your hearts to help feed starving families, clothe children, and bring hope back to a people and culture even richer than our own. Help the Collateral Repair Project repair some of the damage that we Americans have helped to inflict on these innocent people. I know that times are hard, but they are even harder for them. ANYTHING helps. If nothing else, just read the letter and visit the website and share this story with as many people as you can.

Yes, their religion is different. Yes, their culture is different. BUT THEIR HEARTS ARE THE SAME AS OURS. Believe me when I say this..I have lived it...and I am married to a beautiful Iraqi man whose love and devotion to God and me have changed my life forever.

Thank you to those who took the time to read this. It is my sincere hope as fellow Americans, Christians, Cajuns and humans.. that you pass this message on.

Robin Kilgore Kamil

Our Monthly UPDATE - newsletter to our donors and friends

I'm pasting a copy of May's UPDATE below. If you would like to subscribe, send us an e-mail to subscribe.crp(at)gmail.com with "subscribe" in the subject line.
Note: We will not barrage you with e-mails. Although we would like to send the UPDATE out monthly, often we send it only every other month.

  • CRP founder and co-director Sasha Crow recently returned from Amman, Jordan - and will return soon
  • Our BLOG from Jordan
  • Volunteers from CODEPINK joined us in Amman
  • Evergreen College students visit Amman and meet with Iraqi refugee young people
  • HEART to HEART ~ HAND to HAND - a new way for you to connect more personally with Iraqi refugees in Jordan
  • Kudos & Shukrun (thank you!)
  • Pashmina shawl sale & fund-raiser
  • Events
  • Misc
  • Please contribute

Message from CRP founder / co-director, Sasha Crow

Dear Friend of CRP

I recently returned from spending three months in Amman, working side-by-side with our Iraqi coordinator, Maha, to deliver assistance to Iraqi refugee families.

Some things had improved since our last visit in November 08 - UNHCR is doing aggressive outreach to register more refugees so that they can be eligible for the small monthly cash grants and other services. More families are receiving the grant and the amount has increased a little. Medical services have expanded. But, despite these improvements, services and support are still woefully inadequate compared to the overwhelming need. The global economic downturn has resulted in higher prices for food and other necessities, hitting those hardest who have so very little.

he one thing that struck me most during this last visit is how mental health has plummeted.

Some of this can certainly be attributed to up to 6 years of existence as refugees after enduring and witnessing horrors in Iraq and in finding themselves in ever-deepening poverty. But much has to do with the fact that many more Iraqis have been resettled to third countries recently and those left behind (especially those who have been denied resettlement) have lost hope of their situations improving or of having the opportunity to improve them themselves. Many who had looked forward in hope to resettlement to the US now either refuse it if offered to them or consider refusing; they have heard from friends and relatives who have been resettled here about the pathetically inadequate support for Iraqi immigrants to the US a
nd that a good many of those already resettled here are "choosing" to return to Iraq rather than face absolute destitution.

With resettlement off the table, they're left with no options of escaping their situation. Most cannot contemplate returning to Iraq as the threats that forced
them to leave are still very real. Even if security does improve, still many do not have homes to return to - they have been destroyed or taken over by others.

They cannot leave Jordan and yet they cannot build lives there. Most feel that there is no way out - of Jordan or from the limitations imposed on them as refugees. They exist in suspended animation somewhere between Hell and Purgatory. And they are losing hope.

All are exhausted. The common complaint I heard is: "I am so tired"

Now, more than ever, Iraqi refugees need your help.

Most days, I shared tears of sorrow and frustration with the many of the families I visited. I told them that I represent many, many others who cannot be there but who remember, who care and respond. I cannot tell you how heartened they are to know that we have not forgotten them. I wish I knew how to share these moments with you so that you could know how much your support and caring means to them. We have just begun a new campaign that we hope will accomplish this.

Part of CRP's mission has always been to facilitate "mutually respectful relationships between Iraqi victims of war and coalition citizens". With our new "HEART to HEART / HAND to HAND campaign, we offer you a chance to be in more direct contact with Iraqi refugees you assist - and for them to learn more about who you are, too. We hope that you will read more about this effort in this UPDATE (below) and on our web site.

I am returning to Amman on June 12 for another three month stay. I hope that you'll respond to this opportunity so that I can carry with me many of your photos and personal notes along with your contributions to bring assistance to more families.

I am also pleased to tell you that I will be accompanied by a good friend - singer/songwriter, Annie Tanner. Annie will be taking her compassionate heart, her talent and her guitar to bring some joy into the homes of refugee families. She will also be joining us in our daily work and sharing refugees' stories and her experiences by contributing to our BLOG.

Finally, I am so grateful to you for allowing me the privilege of representing your caring hearts when we take families the much needed assistance you provide. Thank you

If you haven't already visited our blog, we invite you to read Sasha's posts of her experiences while in Amman from the end of January through April of this year. We will resume our blog reports when we go to Jordan. We share stories of the refugee families we meet, their photos, the challenges they face, and how we use your contributions to respond to those needs.

CODEPINK volunteers joined us in Amman

We were pleased when CODEPINK members, Kit Siemion and Jim Preston joined us as volunteers in Amman for several days after spending time in Gaza. They accompanied Maha and Sasha as they visited families to deliver food assistance and to purchase a Micro-Project for a family.

This is what Kit wrote before they arrived in Jordan to tell us what they hoped to accomplish by joining with us:

Jim and I are committed Peace Activists trying to build bridges of understanding, compassion and hope with people the world over through travel and work. We consider ourselves "citizen diplomats" and believe experiencing a culture and sharing it with others will help foster a sustainable Peace because only the People can create Peace.

We think Kit and Jim did a terrific job of doing what they set out to do!

You can see more photos from their visit with CRP and also photos they took in Gaza HERE , HERE and more HERE

EVERGREEN COLLEGE (Olympia Washington) STUDENTS visit with IRAQI young people in Amman

On May 13th, CRP collaborated with Evergreen College to bring together US students and Iraqi young people together in hope of fostering mutual understanding and facilitate relationship-building. Here is an initial report of the event from one of the Evergreen coordinators:

17 Evergreen students on an educational study-abroad tour organized a gathering with 12 Iraqi refugee student-age young people. The idea was to meet, talk, share a meal together and collaborate in doing something creative. There was initially discussion among the Evergreeners if we should facilitate a panel-dialogue but then the group decided instead to interact through art. This was also due to the concern that our Arabic skills were lacking.
In the morning the shopping crew went to the market to shop for provisions; in the afternoon the cooking crew prepared the meal. Our guests arrived promptly at 6pm and the welcome crew ushered everyone into the lounge at our hotel. The entire group sat in a circle and introduced themselves, Iraqis and Americans alike. Following some discussion and some laughter that broke the ice, the Evergreen students organized a collaborative art workshop. The idea was that the process of painting together would create a "space" where the Iraqi and American students could interact through their mutual creativity. People chatted in small groups, some painted together while others looked on.
While the paint dried, dinner was served and everyone sat down to share a meal together. After dinner, conversations continued, connections were made and many photographs were taken. The group as a whole came to the consensus that the collaborative artwork should be taken back to Olympia to share this evening with the Evergreen campus. The Evergreen students proposed forming a mural with the "panels" of artwork to present to the campus community.

Finally, our Iraqi guests got up to leave and everyone exchanged email addresses. We hope this gathering will be the beginning of continued connection, conversation and dialogue between us and our Iraqi friends.

HEART to HEART ~ HAND to HAND: building a bridge between you and the Iraqi refugee families you assist

Part of CRP's mission has always been to facilitate "mutually respectful relationships between Iraqi victims of war and coalition citizens". With our new "HEART to HEART / HAND to HAND campaign, we offer you a chance to be in more direct contact with Iraqi refugees you assist - and for them to learn more about who you are, too.

Now, when you donate to provide assistance to Iraqi refugees, CRP will hand-deliver your photos and personal messages to assistance recipients so that they know the names and faces of those who help them. In exchange, we will send you photos and personal messages back from them.

You can choose to send your messages and photos to us electronically - by e-mail or you can send them to us through the US Postal Service. If sending through the mail, it would be especially nice to send your message in a greeting card.

Find out how you can participate by visiting our web site HERE

Kudos and 'Shukrun' ("thank you" in Arabic)

to the congregation of East Shore Unitarian Church of Bellevue, Washington for contributing over $2000 through their Easter offering. These funds will make a huge difference in the lives of many Iraqi refugees in Amman. Only a portion of this contribution has already provided Micro-Projects for three families and given a wheelchair and other health-related supplies for an elderly disabled man. More refugee families will be benefiting from East Shore's generosity soon.

Thank you / Shukrun, EAST SHORE congregation!

This just goes to prove how a group of people, each contributing a little, can make a significant difference to others who are less fortunate

We hope others will be inspired by East Shore. Will you please consider asking your faith-communities, family members, co-workers and other affinity group members to join together to raise funds to help an Iraqi refugee family? Even a little provides a family with necessities they cannot afford - such as medicine and food.

for more information about how your group can help a family, please CONTACT US

Our Pashmina Shawl fund-raising sale was a success

Sasha brought over 100 Pashmina shawls back that she picked up in the souks (market places) in Amman. CRP held its first Pashmina sale in Ashland Oregon last weekend, nearly selling out of shawls and bringing in over $2000 for our refugee assistance projects!

Our thanks to all who attended and supported our work through their purchases!

We still have around 20 shawls - available for only $20 donation. If you live in the Medford/Ashland vicinity and missed our sale, you can contact us to arrange an appointment to see the shawls.

We hope to hold another Pashmina sale this autumn after Sasha and Annie return from Amman with their suitcases bulging with more shawls. We hope to make this a twice-yearly event.


Taos NM 5/26-6/2
World Peace Week
CRP outreach liasion, Karen Jones of Seattle will give a presentation: Forgotten: Bringing hope to Iraqi Refugees in Jordan - How a Grassroots Project is helping Iraqi families in crisis

Eugene OR 5/29-30
Lane Peace Conference Peace and Collective Action: Connecting Hope and Change
CRP co-directors, Mary Madsen and Sasha Crow will present: Iraqi Refugees - forgotten in Limbo. Will include: overview of the Iraqi refugee crisis, film of interviews with Iraqi refugees in Jordan, problem-solving session, and Q & A

Seabeck WA 7/2-5
Seabeck Regional Conference
- Western WA Fellowship of Reconciliation: Building a Just and Sustainable World
CRP outreach liasion, Karen Jones will be presenting on the Iraqi refugee crisis and Collateral Repair Project's response. More info available later


We need donations of crayons and water colors to take with us to Jordan to give as gifts to children when we visit refugee families. We need about 20 more of each.
Please send them to:
CRP c/o Madsen

1800 Poplar Drive # 6
Medford, OR 97504

Cookbook Project - A Celebration of Iraqi Culture
We are excited about our project to create a cookbook of Iraqi recipes with recipes shared with us by Iraqi refugee women. Iraqi refugees spend much of their time focusing on their challenges and losses. With this project, we hope to offer them an opportunity to celebrate on one important aspect of their rich culture - it's food. The book will include recipes for mains through desserts with photos of the women making their dishes - accompanied with personal stories of each of the Iraqi women who contribute. We will also include their memories of the foods they cook and Iraqi food-lore and customs. We hope to be able to have the cookbook ready
in late autumn of 09 for purchase in time for your holiday giving.

In these uncertain times when we are forced to be more attentive to our own needs, please remember those whose lives have been irrevocably damaged in our names and whose resources are gone.

Your contribution - no matter how large or small - makes a difference

Please contribute

Collateral Repair Project is a project of International Humanities Center

Nawruz and Mother's Day

A friend sent me this in an e-mail on Mother's Day. I wrote to ask its author, Nesreen, if I could post it on our blog and to ask her a little about who she is. She kindly agreed to allowing us to share her words. She is an Iraqi expat in Canada and, like most Iraqis I know, her love for her country transcends time and distance. Iraq is in her blood and heart.

You can read more of her writing HERE

Nawruz and Mother's Day
Nesreen Melek

Six years ago I was sitting on the same couch watching their shock and owe bombing on my beloved country. I asked myself what anology they would use for Baghdad and other cities this time. In the early nineties, a CNN reporter covering the Gulf war reported that Baghdad looked like a Christmas tree. Six years ago, when they started their war, it was too late for Christmas... it was spring, a season of fertility, but for Iraqis it was a season of death.

I felt like as I was watching a horror movie; I was watching but not believing that the Am
erican government could be so brutal. There were no weapons of mass destructions, Iraq was not responsible for 9/11 and Iraqis didn’t cause any harm to the American people. I knew it was about the oil and was not about the Iraqi people. American people didn’t care about the Iraqis. The American government pushed the United Nations to impose ten years or economic sanctions on Iraq which caused the death of more than one million Iraqi children.

The horror continued, and I kept asking myself what had we done to them to hate us that much? What was wrong with them? Did they have hearts? What had we done to be punished that way?

I knew that there were people against this ugly war but they could not do anything. I kept asking myself, why would Americans allow their government to kill innocent people in their names? The people could stop this ugly war... But nothing stopped their hatred against my people...

Rallies were held, I attended them all, people stretched out their arms to reach mine and apologized for the American acts against my own people. People wiped my tears, hugged me and I cried on strangers’ shoulders knowing that the destruction would continue and so would be the killing. I knew that they had their plan to destroy Iraq.

Life went on and I was part of it knowing that in Iraq there was a child who could not sleep because he/she was scared from the continuous bombing, there were women who lost their beloved ones and that there was fear in the hearts of each Iraqi because of the daily bombing and the daily killing..

I was speechless when I watched the looting of the Iraqi museum. My sister called me from the States early in the morning that day but we could not say a word to each other. We were both mourning our losses...we were mourning the death of the cradle of civilization on the hands of barbarians..

Nights and days passed, each day the damage and the pain was bigger than the day before..

The American president who orchestrated this war kept talking about how democracy will be spread in Iraq, not mentioning that his troop spread their poisonous hatred on the fertile Iraqi soil

Iraqi prisoners were dragged on the floor in the name of their democracy, women were raped in the name of the democracy, children lost their parents in the name of their democracy, men were killed in the name of their democracy, palm trees were burnt in the name of their democracy, deceased were eaten in loose dogs in the name of their democracy, people left their country in the name of their democracy, scientist were killed in the name of their democracy, yet the American people couldn’t stop their government’s atrocities against the Iraqi civilians.

Americans celebrated each and every occasion. None of these occasions meant anything to me anymore. The last occasion they celebrated was Valentine day.. I asked myself, if they did not feel for the Iraqi children who were killed in their names how could they care about each other...

I felt speechless in so many occasions, until I started expressing myself through written words.. Now I feel that I’ve used all the words and I have no more words left. I can’t cry anymore, the pain in my heart has reached its peak, I feel numbness spreading over my body..

During my last visit to Baghdad, I realized how much Iraqis had lost. There was no life in their eyes, nothing excites them anymore, as they had lost interest in living. Even the children I saw looked different, there was no happiness on their eyes there was only fear.

A few days ago, was the first day of spring, it was Nawruz.. It is spring in Baghdad, the orange trees must be full of Kaddah (Orange tree flowers) and there is no better smell than the smell of the Iraqi Kaddah.. It smells like Jasmine flowers but stronger.. In Iraq, it is mother's day.. I hope that I can make necklaces from this Kaddah, give it to all Iraqi mothers who suffered from the continuous brutality of the world, I wish I can give an orange seeds to the Iraqi children so they can to plant them. My tears, yours and others shall pour like rain on these seeds hoping that there will be good days to come. ..

(photos taken in Amman, Jordan)