“If anyone asked me to define myself, I would say I am a woman. Then I am from Kirkurk and then I am a Kurd citizen. I suffered because I am a woman, I suffered because I am from Kirkurk and, of course, I suffered because I am a Kurd”. These are the most impressive words that Surod M.Falih said to me, when I met her in Kirkurk. Surod is the director of Iraqi Al-amal Association, www.iraqi-alamal.org, especially dedicated to support women and children, the most obvious victims of any war. “We cannot forget that our next two generations will face major challenges. They are damaged by the Operation Anfal, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Anfal_Campaign (massacre of Kurdish population, sometimes using chemical weapons, by Saddam. From 1986 to 1989 millions of citizens from Kirkurk were forced to leave they homes and look for refugee in the mountains) and by the 2003 war”. According to Surod, extreme poverty and the lack of hope is being used by political parties to lead people into fanaticism and ethnical hate. “In despair, you will do anything to keep your family alive. You will vote for whoever gives you money, you will join an armed militia, you will even sell your body for one dollar or less, if you are a widow and you need to feed your babies.” And this is what she is fighting against, when she works in her center: she created a workshop of manufacturing for women, she develops campaigns with the youth to clean Kirkuk’s streets and engage young people to act trough positive change (instead of joining a militia, for example). About the general NGO’s Surod (as many other citizens of Kirkurk I’ve met) says: “NGO’s are mostly corrupt in Iraq. They get funds from international communities to support the citizens, but the citizens are not being supported. Many of the members of NGO’s are corrupt and controlled by political interests.” Today, Surod faces a new challenge: the Al-amal clinic, opened 3 months ago in Kirkurk, where 12 people have been working to provide free healthcare to women and children. The clinic, that will be closed down in the next few days due the lack of funds, is also responsible for local school campaigns of health awareness.
What can we do? a) Surod has a list of children who need urgent surgery and medical treatments, which do not exist in Iraq at the moment. In order to save children’s lives, it would be necessary to bring them to another country, find doctors and perhaps institutions/clinics/universities to sponsor it. If you have the time/knowledge to support this area, please send an email to email@example.com and we will be glad to get you in touch with Surod.
b) Surod and I spoke about the possibility of using new technologies to engage youth from Kirkurk in Education. For example, to learn English and, after that…the sky is the limit: they can have attend classes on the web, apply to western schools, participate in youth contests, learn about Science, IT, Business, Environment, Health, Social projects…if this idea interests you and you have some time/talent to spend on it, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
c) Letters have been sent to the President of the European Union, José Manuel Durão Barroso and to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres regarding the clinic. However, it is never too much to send awareness letters to our authorities. Write a letter to your Senator, Member of the European Parliament and, of course, to the UN. I will try to contact Mr. Guterres and ask him for a public statement regarding the course of the process within the UNHCR. If you need any help writing such a letter, please send us an email. We will provide you a simple model. Then just google the contact you want to address it to and…email it.
My personal impressions As I said, one of the things that impressed me the most about going to Iraq is how normal life can be, even during such a brutal war. Surod is a beautiful early 30’s woman, who speaks almost impeccable English. Regardless religion, ethnics or citizenship, what I saw was an example of struggle for development, democracy and a decent life for the less protected citizens. The clinic provides respectful treatment for women in a country where it’s hard for women to have a physical problem. I’ve met some of those women and children, who live in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Kirkurk. The hardest thing about war is that surviving it is just the beginning – after that, the most common things become impossible quests. It might be easier for some western citizens to go to the moon then to an Iraqi widow to provide income for her family. The second thing that impressed me the most about my venture is the amazing chain of errors that allow the cruelest things to happen. Apparently, strict control of the funds provided would be necessary, but the funding countries are too afraid to go to Iraq to control the results of the donations. And this, if true, is a major problem. Not only because the help is not reaching the people, but also because citizens tend to create disbelief about the West and will tend to hate the once considered friend and ally; There is the risk of those funds being used against the all the ones who, in Iraq, fight for freedom, democracy and development; in a country where people can disappear, die, be tortured and all this can go unpunished, the most dangerous thing we can do is to provide funds to sponsor serious crimes and human rights violations. Fight against corruption must be a nr.1 priority for all the countries involved in supporting Iraq. Confirming that “corruption” is a long lost battle is not acceptable and will prove our civilization to be, either too incompetent to fight it, or too corrupt to fight it. Either way, it does not make us look good.