Saturday, April 2, 2011

Crayons Are For Making Pretty Pictures, Not For Human Consumption

On March 22 we received a desperate call from a new family pleading “Please rescue us!”  They told us they were 4 months behind in rent and had their utilities shut off 2 months ago (no water, no electric).  3 young children. No income. Desperate. Although our coffers for emergency assistance were depleted, their story and desperation were so compelling we scheduled a home visit.

They came to Amman a year ago and UNHCR decided that they are not eligible for resettlement so, not only do they not get the UNHCR financial assistance but UNHCR took away their asylum seeker registration certificate. This means that they are vulnerable to forced repatriation to Iraq. As a result, they cannot get assistance from any of the major NGOs as they require that registration before they will give aid or assistance.
We learned that the dad had been kidnapped by a militia in Iraq and held for 22 days in 2010 and tortured the entire time. They wanted him to join their militia and after a while, the torture was so great that he agreed - just to be released. But they fled the same day he was released. They cannot return to Iraq because of terror they will kidnap or kill him. He cannot try to get any work - even hauling things on the streets of the busy downtown area where they live because, without that protection paper, he will be arrested and sent out of Jordan. The Asylum-Seeker protection paper also is the document required to get assistance of any kind that is available for Iraqi refugees here.

The family includes a husband, wife and three children, a boy age 7, and two girls aged 4 and 3. They live in a miserable 2 room hovel, cold and bleak, with no furniture other than a single mattress leaning against a wall. The bathroom is nothing more than a floor toilet in a space no larger than a closet, and it is blackened and encrusted with mold.  There are no facilities for bathing.  A quick glance into the kitchen area revealed cockroaches and a meager two-burner hotplate.  There was no food in the home.

The wife is 24 years old and is nine months’ pregnant with a history of complicated births. She is expected to give birth anytime during the first two weeks of April.  She does not have a doctor and has not been receiving any prenatal care. She said when she visited a local clinic two weeks ago, she was turned away. There is no money to pay for the hospital when she is ready to give birth – and if she does give birth there, both she and her baby will not be allowed, under Jordanian law, to leave the hospital until her bill is paid. How will they ever afford the $600 (barring complications) bill when they can't afford to feed their children they have?
 They have not been able to make any preparations for the new baby, and are in need of clothing, blankets, diapers and something for the baby to sleep in.

It was clear that the family was not eating well at all; we had brought small gifts of toys and candy for the children, and all three of them immediately consumed the candy.  After that, they also ate the crayons and paints.  Their mother gave the children some bread, which also was devoured ravenously.  We learned that the youngest child suffers from anemia and is not receiving the iron supplement she needs.  There were times during this visit that I had to cast my eyes either downward or out the door in order not to cry.  I just couldn’t believe how this family was being forced to live - no food other than the small amount given to them by their neighbors, no electricity, no furniture and no heat. My bones ached from sitting on the cold, damp concrete floor, and I imagined what it would be like to be in this squalid, hopeless place and in this miserable life.
Usually, both Hajjia (see previous post) and this family would be relieved by our visit and our assurances that we will help. We would buy food for them and make sure that they had heating (it is still very cold here at night) and adequate blankets. We would help Hajiia find and move into an inexpensive flat that at least had basic facilities for bathing and toileting. This month however, we have no funds at all in our Emergency Assistance budget because donations have dropped to a trickle this year. But one just cannot witness these things and walk away without any response.  We bought enough food for a few meals for the family with the hungry children and gave the elderly woman some money that will last her a couple of weeks so she can eat. We took her one of our spare blankets and paid for second-hand kerosene heater for her that she can also cook on. We are paying for these things from our own very minimal salaries although our salaries barely last us the month and we cannot afford to help others from it. What are we to do?                                          --Sasha Crow 


Sasha and Ghazwan are CRP in Amman.  Sasha is an American woman, and Ghazwan an Iraqi man.  The two of them are the living heart of CRP.  They are both deeply compassionate people who have become an integral part of the Iraqi refugee community in Amman and have dedicated themselves to helping the families within this community. I saw the two of them give money from their own pockets to a destitute woman whose only income was from selling shoe polish in the street, so that she could have something to eat other than the spoiled food that had brought ants into her one-room hovel. As she cried, they hugged her and dried her tears.  There wasn’t a desk jockey bureaucrat anywhere to be found – but there, in that dingy room, were two people, one of whom was himself a refugee and the other an American with a desire to bring healing to these devastated people, and both were a single human presence embodying peace and reconciliation.  

 UPDATE -- WITH A PARABLE -- by Sasha Crow
We dropped in to visit Um M and her lovely two children last night to see how she was doing and to introduce Mary, our new resident volunteer, to the family. You may have read about this family on our CRP Face Book page - they arrived last fall with only $7 to their name. CRP supported them for a couple of months - providing rent, food and their other basic necessities. Um M's gratitude is as strong now as it was when we rescued them then. She told us a story - about a poor man that was given alms by a wealthy man. When the poor man was given the coin, he told the wealthy man to say "Ya'allah"(help me Allaha). The wealthy man was incensed - saying "I gave you money and you have the nerve to dictate to me that I must then say "Ya'allah?"!!! The poor man explained that the wealthy one had his riches by Allah's grace so that he was able to then help the impoverished one.

I am not Muslim - or even Christian - but I fervently plead "Ya'allah!" and share the message of the poor man for each of you to make this plea and then share what you have because it was given to you so that you can help others.  
 -- Sasha

We are being overwhelmed with people who have no means of support and who cannot return to Iraq.  Your tax deductible donation will help provide the vital assistance that these families and individuals desperately need.

Follow us on Face Book: Collateral Repair Project – Helping You Help Iraqi Refugees

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(Hajjia is a term of respect to refer to an elderly woman who has either made the Haj or is old enough to have made it.)

Hajjia is a widow and she is old and alone. She ekes out a living by selling shoe polish on the streets of downtown Amman. But this barely pays her rent, so her diet consists of mostly just bread.

Hajjia is from a small village near Mosul. Her husband died in his twenties but until then they were both shepherds and she describes their life as “beautiful”. After that, her son was able to support his family and his mother well. He owned a GMC and transported people for hire between Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Since 2003 all of that changed. Her son and only child, has been imprisoned in Syria for three years and his wife and 8 children remain in the village where the situation is very bad for them and their relatives.
Hajjia now lives Amman, in a room meant for washing the bodies of the dead which has no running water and a hole in the floor for a toilet that overflows with sewage. She has not been able to bathe or wash her hair for several months. She has no heat source or way to cook. She sleeps with one thin blanket on a lumpy mat that she has pulled out of the garbage. 

And she sobs constantly for her son who languishes in prison. She cannot afford to go to see him. He cries during the infrequent calls he is able to make to her because of the treatment he receives and begs her to help. She cannot bear to tell him how bad her own situation is, not wanting to upset him further, not wanting to increase his frustration that he cannot be there to care for her.

We were able to deliver a 2nd-hand kerosene heater she can also cook on, some pots, a bowl, spoon and mug, tea, one of our spare warm blankets, pillow, towel & dishdasha (long dress) from CRP distribution. She wept, she sang and she kissed us many times. We gave her warm socks, and a donated single crutch to make climbing the steep hill and many stairs home easier for her, and told her to come to CRP to get a hot shower and wash her laundry. She was thrilled with the offer and kissed us even more. She tells us that the crutch we gave to her will be useful for not only traversing the steep road to home but that she can use it as a weapon if she has to, to beat off the drunks and drug addicts that inhabit the streets in the evening. She has been mugged before. She makes less than $3 per day selling Kiwi Shoe polish on the streets and must pay her rent & utilities of approx $100 per month. She lives on bread and the charity of others - but she refuses to beg. She said that Allah (God) will provide for her.  
She should be sitting in a place of honor in the family home now, being taken care of in her old age and surrounded by her grandbabies.
 Instead, she sleeps in a bug-infested hovel on one of the steep hillsides of downtown Amman and lives in abject poverty.                                                                      

She is so very alone and in such miserable conditions, rarely touched by human kindness.                                                                             – Sasha Crow