Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Questions Without Answers

Today we braved cold and blustery weather to visit the home of a family whose youngest child, Zahra'a, is now age 1 year. The family consists of the mother and father, ages 27 and 41 and one other child, Ali, age 6.

It was dark when we arrived, a crescent moon lighting the way down on a quiet lane where small clusters of children stopped their play to watch us pass. The family's apartment is off a busy commercial street in a poor neighborhood of Amman. The apartment is humble but clean and uncrowded. Zahra'a was sleeping when we arrived, but was roused for us when we left. She's chubby-cheeked and has dark, curly hair and a somber, bewildered look at waking to strangers in the house. Ali is a shy boy, small for his age, with tousled hair and a smile that needed some encouraging. The father was at the doctor when we visited. He suffers from a chronic kidney infection, including kidney stones and cystitis and requires frequent treatment and three different medications to try to control this painful ailment.

Because the mother has been unable to produce sufficient breast milk to properly nourish the baby, she has been receiving infant formula through CRP's Milk for Children program. Prior to that, the baby had been fed a diet of sugar water to supplement the small amount of breast milk she was able to produce. According to the children's doctor, Ali suffers from a calcium deficiency.

The children's mother had worked occasionally cleaning houses prior to giving birth, but now must stay home with the children. The 6 year old boy had been going to a private school, funded by Save the Children, but when UNHCR funding was cut, the organization could no longer provide for the child's tuition. The nearest public school is a long distance away, too far for a boy of 6 to walk to alone, and so he is no longer attending school. This is but one more example of how lack of UN funds cuts through every aspect and strata of life for Iraqi refugees.

Their UNHCR cash assistance is barely sufficient to pay rent, electricity and food. The husband's kidney medications are sometimes paid for by Red Cross or Caritas but usually comes out of their own pocket. Without the medications he is in excruciating pain, so this cost is another toll on their income.

Because Milk for Children provides formula for infants up to one year in age, we needed to make a plan for Zahra'a to transition to powdered milk, as well as provide powdered milk for the 6 year old. Switching from formula to powdered milk must be done gradually and we advised the mom on making sure to mix small amounts of powdered milk to the formula and gradually increase the amount. CRP will continue to provide infant formula for one more month through this transition, as well powdered milk for both children.

The husband's mother is currently visiting from Baghdad, having come to Jordan for treatment of an eye disease. Her vision is fuzzy and her sight is impaired by black spots. Apparently she requires eye surgery which will cost $1400, far beyond their meager income. She has a bachelor's degree in law and worked as a legal consultant prior to the invasion. Now she survives on a small pension. She described the current conditions in Baghdad as very bad, with many explosions, fear of going far from the house, and never at night when life virtually shuts down. She told what so many Iraqis have told us, that Iran has virtually taken over the country, that "there is no more Iraq." Our efforts to express our apologies for what the invasion and occupation has brought on the nation and people of Iraq was met with an emphatic statement that she doesn't blame the American people. "They demonstrated against it. But the government didn't listen." Then she asked a poignant but earnest question, "Why don't the American parents stand up and object to sending their children to war to die?" A hard question indeed and one that deserves a better answer than any we were able to give.

Sunday, January 17, 2010