Friday, March 26, 2010

TODAY - Thursday March 25 2010

Today's efforts have been too mundane for me to want to bore you with: scavenging the neighborhood shops for the hard-to-find boxes for packing, buying garage bags for packing clothes and bedding, washing glassware, and sorting things so that the move can be relatively organized. I hope to get everything unpacked in the new place quickly so that we can return to our direct work with refugees as quickly as possible. The big move will take place on Tuesday!

For those of you who haven't been following us, we are moving from our cramped current location that consists of two adjacent flats (apartments) to a new single flat that is much more spacious and that (best yet!) has much lower rent. We are combining staff lodging (one room) with CRP office / distribution center / activities center.

This move will make our work more efficient, save money, and - because of the dramatic increase in space - allow us to create more low-cost onsite activities. We are eager to begin!

We plan to hold conversational English-language "socials" for refugees who want to improve their functional English (especially important for those who are to be resettled in English-speaking countries) - and will, as well, provide a place to socialize with others. We plan to have regularly scheduled "arts and crafts" activity days for kids, led by some of the many talented Iraqi artists here. We are considering hosting "play groups" where mothers and young children can come together to socialize and, sometimes, have discussions about parenting challenges and child-health issues. We want to have Iraqi cultural celebrations - an example might be hosting a potluck meal of dishes that are particular to different provinces of Iraq. And many, many more ideas - too numerous to list here!

We have wonderful volunteers from the west who are here in Jordan, studying Arabic at Jordan University. We've invited them to use our space to develop their own activities. One activity they are already planning is to host an "age-peer social" where they plan an event where these western students and Iraqi young adults can get together and learn more about each other while having fun.

We hope, over time, to build a small lending library of books for all ages.

And, of course, we will continue to have good gently used clothing and household items available in our one-room "free store" as well as periodic large distributions of food, coats for kids in winter, and other locally donated items.

A center such as this has been our dream for several years. We had a much more grandiose vision we had aimed for a couple of years ago but the cost of realizing this vision was more than we could afford and we reluctantly had to abandon it. Now, even though this new center is a much more modest version than our original, we are just as excited at the possibilities it will provide to increase the ways CRP provides services to Iraqi refugees.

For the next few days, until this move is completed, daily posts may be suspended. I'll post only if something comes up that isn't associated with boxes and newspaper-print muddied hands.

We'll post photos of the new center as soon as we've moved in and are somewhat organized.

After the move, we'll resume home visits and our posts will return to being about challenges faced by the Iraqi refugees we meet and how we try to help them overcome these challenges. Until then, if you're in the area and want to give a hand with the move on Tuesday afternoon, get in touch!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

CRP Today

The morning began as it usually does, reading my email over coffee and scanning for new articles and reports about Iraqi refugees and related subjects.

The rest of the morning and into early afternoon was spent writing the first of these "TODAY's" and posting it to all CRP fb pages and sending to Mary so that she could post it on our blog.

I found it somewhat enlightening for me to mull over and recall the previous day (since Jordan is separated by many hours from the west, I am writing the previous day's journal the following morning here, while most of you are sleeping)The pace of many of my days here is hectic and although every refugee and their family are unique, their challenges and our responses are similar much of the time: they need cash assistance, someone needs a prescription medicine, used items we have for distribution are needed by many, etc etc. It sometimes feels to me that every day is an extension of the previous - that they are indistinct from one another. I appreciated noting yesterday's specific tasks and the individual families we assisted .I nearly always feel that I am climbing a mountain and that, when I reach it's summit, there is only another mountain that must be climbed. Writing each day's work as separate entities allows me to realize the "valleys" and to stop and pay closer attention to the "scenery" .

I think keeping this daily journal will be as beneficial to me as I hope that it is for you!

After posting the TODAY, I took care of some CRP-related correspondence:

- again, to volunteers with the Iraqi artists/craftspeople project

- to Deb Rodriguez with Oasis Rescue (you may know Deb by her work with the "Beauty Academy of Kabul" who has offered to donate, through Oasis Rescue, some terrific "beauty salons in a box" that CRP can give to Iraqi women here as Micro-Projects for home salons. (Thank you, Deb!!) Mostly discussed logistical stuff with Deb.

- follow-up email to discuss scheduling our new round of home visits with visiting fellows of the Regional Human Security Center who are specifically interested in the challenges and barriers to Iraqi refugee children accessing education in Jordan.

- received an invitation to:
" "Under the patronage of HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal, the Refugee Studies Center (RSC) at the University of Oxford, and the Regional Human Security Centre located in Amman, Jordan, cordially invite you to attend our upcoming one-day event at the Kempinski Hotel on April 13, 2010. The event will focus on the current situation of both internally displaced Iraqi citizens and Iraqi refugees residing in foreign countries. The briefing aims to provide an open platform for constructive discussion, which will offer policy makers a strong idea of the key principles involved with this critical issue""
-- to which I, with pleasure, accepted.

I then met with Ghazwan and Aden, a young Iraqi man enlisted to help, to go to pick up a cooking stove donated by the parents of one of my dear Jordanian friends. (THANK YOU! You know who you are!) and delivered the stove to the widow Haiyat (with 7 children) that, along with her large family, has many needs. She had been cooking on a table-top gas "camp-type" stove and was more than delighted to receive the stove, as you can imagine! Cooking for such a large family on a small stove is a challenge and now she will be able to include baked items in their menu.
When we came into her home, we were pleased and amazed to see her only son, Abdullah, sitting near his mother and READING. Less than a month ago, Abdullah (age 15) was fully illiterate. He had to go to work at age 11 in very low-paying menial jobs to contribute his family. Before that, he had no opportunity to attend school because of the war and then lack of opportunity when his family arrived in Jordan. It was not until 2007 that Iraqi children could attend public schools here and his mother could not afford to send him to private school. His sisters are all in school and doing very well but Abdullah had missed too much school to ever hope to return. Now, because of a wonderful benefactor in the US, Abdullah is receiving intensive private tutoring in reading and writing Arabic. A very bright boy, he is catching on amazingly fast. He was working for less than $3 per day, 6 days every week, doing menial labor and contributing this to his family. His benefactor is also paying to Haiyat the amount of money Abdullah formerly made at this job so that his new "job" is only to be a student. We are so proud of Abdullah for how responsibly he is taking this on. 

We were also pleased to see that Haiyat's youngest daughter, Anoud (age 4) was looking so well. When we last saw her, only a little over a week ago, we had to visit her in the hospital. She was very ill with bronchitis, not uncommon in the cold stone houses with insufficient heat here. Anoud is disabled - paralyzed and cognitively delayed - and recently diagnosed with a seizure disorder. Bronchitis is even more dangerous for her and we were very worried about her. Haiiyat was exhausted - spending her nights sleeping upright in a hard chair in Anoud's hospital room and then, in the daytime, rushing home to make sure the other children's needs were met. Seeing Anoud with rosy cheeks and clear eyes was a relief. And we were very happy to be able to deliver the stove to her mother, to relieve her of some of the work of caring for her family.

Next, we continued on in the truck to the home of Abu Mais and his family. CRP is moving into a larger, much less expensive flat here but the reason it is less expensive is because it's unfurnished (unfurnished flats in Jordan do not have anything in them - not even appliances) This family has finally, after over two years of waiting, interviews, security checks, etc, was accepted for resettlement to the US and were leaving the next morning for their flights. They had been selling everything they owned and CRP purchased their refrigerator and stove. We loaded them on to the truck and then visited with the family for a while, reluctantly saying our goodbyes.

CRP has known this family for over two years. We first provided Um Mais with a home salon Micro-Project and, most recently, helped them by enlisting our volunteers to translate correspondence in Arabic from them into English that was necessary toward their resettlement. We had provided the children with warm coats in winter and their youngest,baby Samir, with milk under our MILK for KIDS project. We were saying goodbye to old friends, not just assistance recipients.

Although pleased that they finally were going to be resettled,the parents were very nervous at the same time - they have heard that it is very hard for new immigrants to the US, that many newly resettled Iraqis are in crisis because they cannot find work - or adequately paid work - before the few months of assistance they receive when first arriving runs out. Their English skills are very limited. They are leaving behind everything they have ever known, taking nothing but some clothes, to begin a new life in an alien culture and at the worst economic time. I told them to send us an email as soon as they are able to after they arrive and let us know how they are. We will keep in touch and, if they find themselves in crisis, we will try to find someone in their new community to befriend them and help them explore and access possible solutions. They seem relieved and promise they will keep in touch.

We took some last minute photos and went through another round of long embraces and kisses before we turned to leave. As we walked away, Ghazwan wiped tears from his eyes, "I hate this part" he said, "It brings it all back to me, the memory of the night my brother and mother left (to be resettled) It brings it all back"

The pain being separated by continents from close family is nearly unbearable. As of now, Ghazwan and his wife's file is still in only "protection" unit at UNHCR. Files must be moved from the protection unit to the resettlement unit before they can be considered for possible resettlement. Sometimes this happens rapidly and, for others, like Ghazwan, their files remain in protection year after year, taking away any hope of reunification with loved ones or escaping the challenges they face here as nonresidents.

We installed the appliances in the new CRP flat and did a run-through to see what was needed. Ghazwan and I returned to my flat and, over a quickly grabbed shwama sandwich, discussed moving logistics, arranged for a truck for the move, and then a few of the cases we are working on now. He made arrangements for someone to bring me some old newspapers I need to wrap glass items in for the move and then left, to finally go home to see his own children.

I downloaded photos that I took at our visits to Haiyat and Abu Mais families and sent them to Mary and to the donor who contributed the stove to Haiyat. I wrote emails to my own adult children who I neglect too much because of the demands of CRP days. I did some personal chores and then, rubbing my sleepy eyes, went to bed and tried to read myself to sleep.

I was still awake at 3 a.m. so gave up, got up and checked my email and facebook. I had online conferences with Mary and some others who were in the middle of their early evening and went back to bed around 7am, falling over into immediate and deep sleep.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

CRP Today March 23, 2010

Dear Friends,

This is the first of our posts that will tell you what CRP is doing on a daily basis. We hope that you'll get a better idea of how we spend our time and your contributions by sharing a brief diary of our days with you. We'll usually post once a day, at the end of each day. You'll read about our visits with families and the assistance you provide to them - as well as the sometimes mundane but necessary tasks that fill our days. We hope that you'll get a better sense, not only about what CRP accomplishes for Iraqi refugees but also the myriad challenges Iraqis in Jordan face.


Began the morning by writing two letters to UNHCR to inform them about two different Iraqi families who arrived in Jordan in late 2009, registered with UNHCR as Asylum Seekers but who still have not received UNHCR cash assistance. One family consists of parents and 4 minor children - the other consists of a grandmother, parents and 6 minor children. They have been surviving on charity-such as food boxes from a local church but they have no cash, making them extremely vulnerable because they cannot pay their rent and utilities. (CRP provided them with a package containing meat and chicken and we will keep in touch to make sure that they are ok until they receive cash assistance through UNHCR) I asked UNHCR if these families' cash assistance might be expedited. (it can take months for families to begin to receive cash assistance after they have applied) UNHCR has been very responsive when informed about emergency situations such as these.

Updated our fb group post about the Valentines Day party CRP hosted for 50 Iraqi refugee children and their parents. Explained that the date of the party was also the anniversary of the US bombing of Baghdad's al-Amariya bomb shelter where hundreds of mostly women and children were incinerated in the place they had sought safety. So the Valentines Day party was not only a fun day for these kids and their families but also a way to provide distraction from their collective grief on this somber day.

Updated our fb pages with notice of our worrisome financial situation and plea for help to keep us here and able to continue our work

Engaged in online chat with our good partner in the UK - Iraq Solidarity Campaign about ways that CRP can increase awareness of our project and inspire support. Iraq Solidarity said they would increase their outreach - and did - thank you, ISC!

Wrote emails to local volunteers who are helping to organize venues for Iraqi artists and craftspeople in Amman to catch them up on where we are at on this end.

Read information about minimum items to be provided to Iraqis when they are resettled to the US - passed this info along to Mary (our co-director) in Oregon who, along with others in her community, are preparing to provide supportive friendship to an Iraqi family we have been advocating for resettlement to S OR.

Made arrangement to pick up a good used stove donated by a CRP friend in Jordan that will be given to Haiyat, the young widow with 7 children. Haiyat has been cooking for her family on a small table-top "camp stove" for several years. She is thrilled to be getting this stove. (photos coming after we deliver to her on Wed )

With Ghazwan (CRP Iraqi colleague in Amman) called 20+ Iraqi artists and craftspeople to ask them to give us samples of their art/crafts next week.

We also called to arrange pick-up of a stove and refrigerator that CRP purchased (the new flat is completely unfurnished - thus the low rent) from an Iraqi family who are being resettled to the US this week as well as a time for us to say tearful goodbyes to this family CRP has known and assisted for over two years.

Iraqi father stopped by to give us an update on his family's crisis situation. He has a large family - 2 of the children with severe medical conditions - both parents suffering from extreme depression (father was kidnapped and badly tortured) which appears to render the parents sometimes incapable of being able to function adequately in dealing with challenges. Last week he told us they were being evicted because of past-due rent (had used money to pay for medications and treatments for their ill children instead) and that the landlord had hired a lawyer who threatened to report him to the police if rent in arrear was not paid (nearly $500) It was certain he would be jailed until the rent was paid. We had contacted UNHCR who only suggested that he go to Legal Aid. Last night he said that Legal Aid could not offer any help - only suggested that he try to "work things out" with the owner. The owner compromised by not reporting him to the police but insisted that he move his family out of the flat by tomorrow. This man was combing the streets, desperately looking for an inexpensive apartment to rent immediately. I wish I could have offered some possibilities for him but, as I have been looking madly for a new flat for CRP, I know that there are not many empty flats in available in this area. CRP does not have the funds to offer to put the family in a hotel for a couple of days. We are very concerned about this family and will check in with him tomorrow and hope a solution has been found. We will maintain frequent contact with the family and seek out possible resources other NGOs might be able to offer. This is a very worrisome situation and frustrating because we do not have the resources to help financially at this time.

Ghazwan accompanied me to sign the lease for the new CRP distribution center / activity center / office (and staff bedroom)! Through this move we have reduced our per month rent from $420 mo to only $280! And, best of all, we doubled the amount of space over what we have had which will enable us to accept more donations for distribution as well as hold informal classes (ie such as conversational English and handicrafts), cultural celebrations, and children's activities - as well as, of course, having a place where Iraqis can come to us to seek assistance. The landlords live in the same building and are pleased to be able to rent their flat to us for our work - after checking in with the neighbors to make sure no one had problems with this. This is important because unhappy neighbors can cause problems if they complain to the authorities - not for CRP but for Iraqis who would come to our center. We are relieved to find this larger and less expensive location - and nervous about our ability to keep the commitment we've made by signing a 1-year lease. We know our work is too important to end and how valuable it is to Iraqis so we, for now, must go forward in trust that others will recognize this and support our work.

After signing the lease and returning to my flat, Ghazwan called newly arrived families to schedule home visits with them for assessment for our assistance and finished calling the artists/craftspeople on our list.

Then Ghazwan left to pay the rental agent the remaining 10JD ($14) of the 20JD that we agreed we owed him for finding the new flat. The agent was not hired by the owner but only had heard that the flat was empty and led us to it. Ghazwan called me afterwards, justifiably upset, because the agent, once Ghazwan got to his office, changed his mind about the amount - insisting on 50JD instead of 20! He told Ghazwan that I am a "rich American woman with a NGO" (a common mis-perception here) and still, after Ghazwan explained our situation, insisted on 30JD. As happens often here, this was argued passionately. Ghazwan knows how little money we have and how what we have is needed badly to help refugees and he was loath to hand over much more than was appropriate. Two Iraqi men nearby cautioned Ghazwan, reminding him that the owner could call the police and only make more problems for him (Iraqis who are victims are often punished while their perpetrators go free. They are very vulnerable to exploitation because of this. Ghazwan apologized for paying 30JD to the agent and insisted that I take it from his wages. I told him that he had made the right decision and that this (in the big picture) relatively small amount of money was well worth avoiding prison. And besides, the new landlord,in kindness and in appreciation of CRP's work, had insisted that we not pay any rent for these last days of March, even though we have taken residency already - so in actuality, we did "lose" less money than we saved.

It must be very hard for Iraqi men here to know that they must back-down and accept intimidation and exploitation. It surely is a searing humiliation. We so very much appreciate Ghazwan's work with us and his willingness to put himself in the position to have to endure this type of humiliation and frustration sometimes - as well as enduring reminders of his own and his family's trauma and loss when he accompanies me to visit other families and hear their painful stories. He is one of the many Iraqi heroes and heroines that give so much of themselves and without whom CRP could not exist. Our gratitude can never be sufficient for all they do.

Conferenced via chat with Mary in the US re the events of the day.

Responded to a good suggestion from Dana with Code Pink re possible partnership with another organization.

Electrical black-out had me scurrying to light candles and finish internet-related work. Power resumed just as I finished. Washed my dishes and headed to bed.