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Iraq: The Suffering of Iraqis

While we have touched on the plight of Iraqi refugees in neighbouring Arab countries previously, nothing compares to the real misery they are facing away from their homes and jobs more than Iraqi blogger Faiza Al Arji's (Arabic) report from the ground.

The mastermind behind an online charity project to collect funds and help start up small cottage industries to enable Iraqi refugees in Jordan make ends meet, Al Arji takes us to homes without curtains and carpets, children sleeping on the floor and without adequate health care and clothing and fathers unable to work because of Visa restrictions, in this post I am translating from Arabic.

Setting aside time in her busy schedule, Al Arji introduces her pioneering Collateral Repair Project, as follows:

منذ فترة طويله وانا احاول ان اقتنص الوقت حتى اكتب شيئا جديدا على الموقع , لكنني مشغولة جدا ,
سافرت الى ايطاليا لحضور مؤتمر للنساء من مختلف دول العالم ,
ثم عدت الى عمان لأجد صديقاتي الامريكيات ساشا وماري في انتظاري
, ساشا من سياتل , وماري من اوريغون , وهم فريق العمل لمشروعنا المشترك لجمع تبرعات على الموقع :
http://www.collateralrepairproject.org/
حيث نجمع تبرعات ونقوم بتمويل مشاريع صغيرة لعوائل عراقيه هنا , خصوصا للنساء , مثل ماكنة خياطه او فرن للخبز او صالون تجميل في البيت او صناعة مخلل ومواد غذائية ليبيعوها ويكون ثمة دخل صغير يكفل للعائلة الحد الادنى من الحياة الكريمه وهم في الغربه…
هذه المشاريع طبقناها لحد الان على حوالي 15 عائلة , والبرنامج مستمر….
For a while now, I have been trying to make time to write something new on this blog. I have been very busy and have travelled to Italy, where I attended conference for women from around the world. When I returned to Amman, my American friends Sasha and Marie were waiting for me. Sasha is from Seattle and Mary from Oregon and they make up the work team for our joint project http://www.collateralrepairproject.org/, which collects donations online. Money collected funds small projects for Iraqi families here, especially for women, and goes towards purchasing sewing machines, ovens for baking bread, equipment for a home-based beauty salon, or items to enable them to make pickles and other food products, which they can sell and make a small income which will enable their families to live above the poverty line while they are abroad. We have managed to cover 15 families with this programme, and our project continues …

With so many needy Iraqi refugees around, Al Arji explains how difficult it is to choose deserving beneficiaries for the project:

وعندما حضرت ساشا وماري ذهبت معهم اولا لزيارة العوائل التي تم تمويل مشاريعها الصغيرة, ورأت صديقاتي كيف أن هذه العوائل سعيدة وممتنه لما قدمناه لهم من مساعدات صغيرة وكيف ان هذه المشاريع التي تتراوح ميزانيتها بين 100 الى 300 دولار قد أدخلت السعادة الى بيوت يترواح عدد أفراد العائله بين 4 الى 7 أشخاص عادة….
ثم بدأنا جوله جديدة من الزيارات لعوائل جديدة لنسمع ونرى ثم نقررأن نمول أو نرفض الطلب…
عادة يرفض الطلب في حالات مثل : اذا العائلة عندها دخل جيد , مثل الزوج والزوجه يعملون متطوعين في منظمات برواتب معقوله مثل 100 دينار
أو 150 دينار لكل واحد
, فهؤلاء حسب تقديرنا لا يحتاجون الى تمويل مشروع, الدخل عندهم كافي لحياة كريمه نوعا ما…
والعائلة التي قدمت على طلب هجرة وتنتظر القبول , نرفض تقديم تمويل لهم ,
When Sasha and Mary arrived we first went to visit the families we have funded together. My friends saw how those families were happy and grateful for the small aid we gave them. They also saw how help ranging from $100 to $300 have brought happiness to homes which housed between four to seven family members. After that, we visited more families, to meet them and hear their stories, in order for is to decide whether we should help them or turn down their applications. We usually refuse to help in cases in which the family earns a good income such as when the husband and wife work as volunteers in organisations and get acceptable salaries like JD 100 ($141) or JD 150 ($212) each. Such people, according to our estimation, do not need funding for projects and their income is enough to provide for a sort of decent life ..
We also reject helping families which have applied for immigration and are awaiting approval.

Al Arji also takes us into the homes of refugees, describing them in plain and simple words as follows:

نحن نعطي العائلة المحتاجه فعلا حسب ما رأيناه في الزيارة, أطفال كثيرون , اثاث قليل وبسيط, لا يوجد في البيت أي مؤشر أن ثمة حياة معقوله هنا, لا يوجد سجادة على الارض, لا توجد ستائر , لا يوجد حتى كرسي للجلوس عليه احيانا نجلس على الفرشات الاسفنج التي يستعملونها ليلا للنوم…
ايضا نتأكد أن العائلة لم تطلب الهجرة ,
كيف نتأكد ؟
عادة العوائل المسيحية والصابئية كلهم دون استثناء طالبين الهجرة …
نأتي للعوائل المسلمه , التي موجود فيها زوج وزوجة عادة هم صريحون في الكلام, الذي يريد الهجرة يقول قدمت وانتظر, والذي لا يريد يقول لم اقدم ولا افكر بالموضوع , انتظر تتحسن الاحوال وارجع للعراق, هؤلاء نعطيهم تمويل لمشروعهم ..
ثمة عوائل اخرى قابلناهم عندهم اطفال يعانون أمراض مزمنه يحتاجون علاج مستمر ومنظمات طبيه تتعهد علاجهم وتغطي نفقات العلاج لفترة طويله , كاريتاس هنا تعالج العراقيين , لكن بميزانية محدودة لكل عائلة , مما يضطر العوائل ان تنفق من جيبها الخاص على اطفالها حين يضطرون لدخول المستشفى كل شهر مرة او مرتين وكاريتاس تقول ان رصيد العائلة انتهى وينبغي ان يدفعوا من جيوبهم 200 دينار او اكثر , وتذهب العوائل لتستدين , هذا شيء محزن ومخجل, عوائل فقيرة لا تملك قوت يومها من اين لها ان تدفع 200 دينار او 500 دينار مصاريف علاج الاطفال او عمليات اضطراريه لهم؟
We only support real needy families, with a lot of children, little and simple furniture and who live in houses with no indications of an acceptable standard of living like having no curtains, carpets on the floor or chairs to sit on. We usually sit on mattresses they sleep on when we visit them. We also make sure that the family hasn't applied for immigration. How do we verify that?
Usually all the Christian and Sabean families have applied for immigration.
This leaves us with the Muslim families, which usually have an outspoken partner who is ready to talk. They would either say that they have applied for immigration and are waiting or that they have not applied and are not thinking of doing that and that they are waiting for the circumstances to improve so that they can return to Iraq. It is those families which we help. There are other families which we have met who have children who suffer from chronic diseases and need continuous medical support. Some medical organisations pledge to treat them and cover their medical expenses for a long period of time. There is an organisation here which treats Iraqis, but within a certain budget for each family. This forces the families to spend from their own pockets to cover the remaining expenses to treat their children who may need to be admitted into hospital once or twice a year. The organisation would say that the family has exceeded its quota and they will have to pay JD 200 ($282) or more from their own pockets. This forces the families to take loans which is saddening and shameful. There are many families which are not able to eat so how are they going to afford JD 200 or JD 500 ($705) for the treatment of their children and any emergency operations they may need?

Despite the need and unbearable conditions facing refugees, Al Arji wonders where Iraq's oil money is going. She asks:

هذه منظمات عالمية وميزانيتها ممتازة , لكنها تعتذر وتقول ان الميزانية لا تكفي لتغطية نفقات كل مريض عراقي هنا,
العراقيون غاضبون و يقولون أين أموال النفط العراقي؟
لماذا لا تغطي نفقات علاج العوائل هنا من صندوق خاص من مبيعات النفط العراقي؟
لماذا لا تعطى حصص غذائية للعوائل من صندوق خاص من مبيعات النفط العراقي؟
والله لا ادري ماذا اقول , اين تذهب اموال النفط العراقي؟ لتسديد ديون حروب صدام حسين ضد ايران والكويت ؟
هل هذه عدالة وحكمة المجتمع الدولي الذي يقوده الرئيس بوش وادارته ؟
يموت العراقيون من الجوع والفقر والمرض داخل العراق وخارجه , وأموال نفطهم تنهب لتوضع في البنوك في حسابات شخصية للصوص العراق الجديد , او لشركات النفط الامريكية , او غيرها من مستثمرين شبعانين متخمين ؟
Those are international agencies with excellent budgets. However, they apologise and say that the funding isn't enough to cover the costs of treating every sick Iraq. The Iraqis are angry and are asking where the money of the Iraqi oil is going? Why can't Iraqis be treated from a special fund set up from the sale of oil? Why don't Iraqis get food rations from a special fund set up with money from the sale of oil? I seriously don't know what to say. Where is the Iraqi oil money really going? Is is being spent to repay the loans of Saddam Hussein's wars on Iran and Kuwait> Is this part of the justice and wisdom of the international community being led by President Bush and his administration? Iraqis are dying of hunger, poverty and illness inside Iraq and abroad and their oil money is being robbed to be deposited in the personal bank accounts of Iraq's new thieves or the American oil companies or the full glutenous investors?

The blogger goes on to tell us how sad she is with the situation and heartbreak around her, and pledges to continue in her stride to make life a better place for the refugees she meets. She is also touched by the support of Americans to her online project and helping Iraqi refugees on the ground. She explains:

يبدو انه ما عاد ثمة عداله او رحمه في هذا العالم الذي يطغي عليه الظلم والنهب والسلب , والفقراء من لهم ؟
والله لا أدري …
قلبي حزين ,
لكن ايماني بالله وقناعتي انه يمتحننا جميعا , هو الشيء الوحيد الذي يصبرني ,

وعملي المتواصل هو الشيء الوحيد الذي يواسيني لانني احاول ان أرمم مصائب الناس , أحاول ان ادخل السعادة الى قلوب وبيوت اناس معذبين مظلومين يمرون بظروف تعيسه , رغم علمي ان حجم الكوارث كبير في العراق, وان كل ما نحاول تصليحه هو اشياء صغيرة من هنا وهناك, لكنها افضل من الصمت او السلبية أو الانانية …
واسعدني جدا ان أرى نساء أمريكيات من ثقافه مختلفة ودين مختلف وعالم مختلف تماما عن عالمي الذي تربيت ونشأت فيه ببغداد وغيرها من عواصم عربيه
لكن سبحان الله الذي جمعنا ووحد قلوبنا للعمل على مساعدة العراقيين ,…
لم نلتق من قبل أبدا, لكننا نملك رؤيا مشتركه للأمور..

There seems to be no more justice or mercy in this world which is overwhelmed with injustice, looting and robbery. Who is there for the poor? By Allah, I don't know. My heart is sad but I still believe in God and am convinced that we are all being tested. This is the only thing which is keeping me patient. My continuous work is my only salvation as it helps me decrease people's miseries. I try to bring happiness to the hearts and homes of troubled people who are being treated with injustice and living through miserable circumstances. Despite my understanding that the catastrophes in Iraq are huge, and that what we are trying to fix is small things here and there, I feel it is better than being quiet and reacting with pessimism and selfishness. I was happy to see American women of a different culture and religion, who come from a world totally different from the one I grew up in in Baghdad and other Arab capitals. But all grace to Allah who has united our hearts to help Iraqis. We have not met before, but we share similar thoughts about the situation.

Al Arji then takes us into the home of a family of seven, showing us the horrific conditions they live in and the health and employment problems they battle on everyday to make a living. She writes:

يعني مثلا حين ندخل لزيارة عائلة, نرى ونسمع ونكتب ونتكلم ونلتقط الصور…
وحين نخرج من باب البيت نتمشى في الشارع و نبدأ التعليقات , دائما نتفق على وجهة النظر أما ايجابيه أو سلبيه …
وكأننا تخرجنا من مدرسة واحدة ,
وهو في الحقيقة نعم , نحن ابناء مدرسة واحدة نعيشها كل يوم , مدرسة الحياة , علمتني مثلما علمت ساشا وماري حقائق كثيرة, علمتنا كيف نشفق على المريض والفقير وكيف نساعده على طريقة لتحسين ظروفه وايجاد حلول طويلة الاجل لتعيش العائلة حياة معقوله …
يعني مثلا : زرنا عائلة فقيرة جدا من الموصل, الأب يعمل نجار احيانا , واحيانا يجلس في البيت , لأنه لا يملك اقامه ولا رخصة عمل, وصاحب المحل ممكن يدفع 500 دينار غرامه اذا وجدوا عنده عامل بلا اقامه ورخصة عمل…
الأم تعمل خياطه في محل ,
عندهم 5 اطفال تتراوح الاعمار بين 10 ثم 9 ثم عندهم تؤأم ثلاثي عمرهم 6 سنوات , هذه اول مرة بحياتي ارى تؤام من 3 اطفال …
واحد من هذا التوأم اسمه ابراهيم عنده مشكله في قدراته العقليه , كثير الحركه ولا يتكلم , رفضت اي مدرسة استقباله , متعلق كثيرا بالأم ولا يمكنها الخروج للعمل او التسوق حتى يرجع اخوته من المدرسة..
البيت بحالة يرثى لها من الفقر, غرفة نوم واحدة للجميع , سريرين منفصلين والباقين ينامون على الارض, لا توجد سجادة على الارض والجو بارد هذه الايام, لا يوجد في البيت كرسي واحد بلاستك او خشب, لا توجد ستائر, لا توجد ادوات مطبخ معقوله , لا توجد العاب للاطفال , لا يلبسون ملابس كافيه ومناسبه …
نحاول ساشا وماري وأنا ان نشتري لهم الاحتياجات التي ذكرناها , من تبرعات تلقيناها على الموقع الذي ذكرته سابقا,وايضا اليوم زرنا مدرسة لذوي الاحتياجات الخاصة واتفقنا معهم أن يفحصوا قدرات ابراهيم حتى نضعه في احد الصفوف , وينبغي ان ندفع عنه 150 دينار شهريا , حتى تتحسن حالته , وترتاح منه الام فترة الصباح حتى 3 ظهرا, حيث تقدر على الذهاب للمخيطه
( اشترينا لها مكنة الخياطه الصناعية في المحل واصبحت شريك في المحل)
هذه العائلة لم تفكر ابدا في الهجرة , هم فقط يحاولون تأمين قوت يومهم وحل مشاكل اطفالهم الصحية حيث عندهم طفله اخرى مصابه بمرض مزمن في الكلى منذ الولادة…
For instance, when we visit a family, we listen to them and write, talk and take pictures. When we leave the house, we walk on the street and start to comment. We always agree on opinions, whether negative or positive. It is as if we have all graduated from one school. In reality, that is the case. We are the daughters of one school, which we live in everyday – the school of life, which has taught me as much as it has taught Sasha and Mary a lot of truths. It has taught us how to sympathise with the sick and poor and how to help them to improve their circumstances through long-term solutions, which will help their families live decent lives. For example, we visited a very needy family from Mosul. The father works occasionally as a carpenter and sometimes stays at home because he doesn't have a residency visa or a work permit. His employer could also face a JD 500 fine if he is caught employing him illegally. The mother works as a seamstress in a shop. They have five children, aged 10, nine and have triplets, aged six. That was my first time seeing triplets. One of those triplets is called Ibrahim. He is mentally handicapped and moves a lot but does not speak yet. None of the schools accepted to enroll him. He is also very attached to his mother and this prevents her from going out for work or even for shopping, until his siblings return from school. Their house is in an awful condition because of their poverty. They have one bedroom for everyone. Two beds are attached to each other and the rest sleep on the floor. There isn't a carpet and the weather is now cold. There isn't a single chair in their house – whether wooden or plastic. There are no curtains. There are no proper cooking utensils. There are no toys for the children. They don't even have appropriate or enough clothes. Sasha, Mary and I are trying to buy them the things they need, using the donations we receive through the website I mentioned above. We also visited a school for special needs and have reached an agreement with them that they would examine his condition and enroll them in one of their classes. We will have to pay them JD 150 every month, until his condition improves. This will give his mother some rest up to 3pm. In this time, she will be able to go to the sewing shop, where we purchased an industrial sewing machine for her and made her a partner in the shop. This family has never thought of immigrating. They are only trying to live day by day and solve the health problems facing their children. They also have another daughter suffering from a chronic kidney malfunction since her birth.

While apologising for burdening us with the problems Iraqi refugees face, Al Arji pays more tribute to her American collaborators on the project. She notes:

ربما سببت لكم الصداع , هذه مثال على حالة واحدة , لو رأيتم دفتر ملاحظاتي ودفاتر ماري وساشا سترون قصصا كثيرة معقدة ومحزنه لعوائل كثيرة , ونتناقش كيف نجد الحلول المتوازنه لكل عائله ….
عندنا جدول عمل طويل ومزدحم يحتاج الى شهور لانجازه…
ماري رجعت الى اوريغون وبقيت معي ساشا…
مازلت مندهشه كيف اننا انسجمنا ونملك رؤية متشابهه للأمور ؟
I may have caused you a headache. This is just one example of the cases we see. If you see my notebook and the notes Sasha and Marie have taken, you will read a lot of sad and complicated stories of many families. We discuss how to find balanced solutions for each family. We have a long agenda and busy schedule, which will take us months to complete. Mary is back in Oregon and I am left with Sasha. She is still surprised that we clicked with each other and share similar visions.

In conlusion, she wonders if Iraqis will ever be able to return to their homes.

متى ينسحب بوش وجيوشه من العراق ويعود الوطن للعراقيين ويعود العراقيون لوطنهم؟
هذا هو السؤال الصعب والذي ينتظر الجواب …
ومع الاسف , لا يبدو ثمة جواب واضح يلوح في الافق القريب….
وليس لكم ايها العراقيون البؤساء سوى الصبر والانتظار….
When will Bush and his armies withdraw from Iraq? When will Iraq return to the Iraqis and when will the Iraqis return to their homes? This is a difficult question which is still awaiting an answer. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be an answer in the horizon. All you miserable Iraqis have is patience and waiting.

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