Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our initial contact with this family came through a hand written letter by the mother, describing the family’s economic and emotional downward spiral since fleeing to Jordan. The family left Iraq in Spring 2010 following a death threat. You can read the report and excerpts from the letter in the previous post. 

On Thursday we paid our first visit to the family. We found that they live in a two room apartment with peeling paint and no furniture except one plastic chair and worn carpets. There are no closets or wardrobes for clothing and personal items. The family’s meals are prepared on a small, one burner gas stove in a corner of their kitchen. Cooking utensils are sparse. They don’t have a refrigerator for proper storage of perishables, which makes shopping every day both more expensive and time-consuming for a family of 6.
In the sleeping room a large section of the plaster had fallen from the ceiling while the children were playing in the room. Fortunately no one was hurt but they are justifiably afraid that more will fall this winter when the rains arrive.

Propped against the wall on one side of the sleeping room a piece of wood, approximately 3’x3’, serves as a makeshift blackboard for the children to write on (Mom says they love to write).  It was the only visible “toy” in the apartment. 
They sleep on two single size foam mats which they put together into one bed.  Nights are getting cold now and they have no heat, so they all bundle together at night under their two blankets. Fortunately, one of CRP’s Iraqi friends donated a crib for the baby and she no longer has to sleep on the floor.
The couple is clearly depressed and their sense of hopelessness is visible. The older children – 3, 6  and 8 years -- don’t smile or respond to friendly overtures, even when we handed them small gifts, our custom when visiting families with children. They seemed to regard us with a wariness tantamount to suspicion, but likely a result of trauma from the sudden, life-altering circumstances they have endured. Their parents both have university degrees, held professional jobs and lived a comfortable life prior to the invasion in 2003.  Now they are destitute with no opportunity to work.

The three oldest daughters attend school and Dad says that, despite their circumstances, they are doing very well, adding with clear pride “they are very smart.” But they lack the all the required school supplies – copy books, pencils, erasers, etc -- and have only one backpack to share between them. They also need new shoes.The wife, who speaks excellent English , expressed a genuinely deep passion for children’s and women’s rights and welfare, especially education. She brightened and became animated when we discussed with her the possibility of tutoring another Iraqi child who has missed much school and was unable to enroll this term due to lack of room in local public schools. A donor had contributed funds for a tutor but we have been searching for a qualified person. This mother seems a perfect fit. As she expressed, “I want to pay my own way.”
The family does not receive UNHCR cash assistance and has fallen 4 months behind in rent.  Fortunately, according to the father, the landlord is very sympathetic to their situation. But this is still a debt that one day must be reconciled.  UNHCR cash assistance is not retroactive to the time of registration and may even be denied altogether.  They have no money to provide even their basic needs and have been minimally surviving on the charity of others for food. The mother worries about her children, stating that they are not receiving proper nutrition and have become noticeably pale.

The multitude of needs for this family is overwhelming and beyond CRP’s current resources. However, thanks to several donors who have responded, we went shopping for the family and were able to purchase blankets for all as well as sturdy, cloth covered sleeping mats, clothes for the baby and all the necessary school supplies. We also found a used stove in good condition. Today, everything was delivered to them. They will still need a heater for winter, coats and shoes for the children, help with back rent, a refrigerator and food.
This family is only one of a whole host in similar straits and serves as one example of the conditions and hardships thousands are enduring. With more refugees arriving from Iraq, the situation compounds daily. Most wait for months for UNHCR cash assistance, living lives of desperation while debts accrue, hopelessness overwhelms and the sense of dignity slowly crumbles. For them, the consequences of war are everyday life. CRP needs your help to address a small part of an overwhelming situation.