What Bassel, Medhat and I experienced during our visits and talks (Sept. 30-‐Oct. 5, 2014) with the displaced Iraqis in Amman and Erbil is much more than limited words can express.
Since the outbreak of the conflict in Anbar, Iraq in January 2014 and the fall of Mosul in early June, an estimated 1.2 million people have been displaced.
Listening to the displaced individuals’ agonizing stories, horrifying memories and questions about the future, deeply impacted our hearts and spirits. That is why I cannot remain silent. Allow me to give you a brief synopsis of my experience in Iraq… one which I will never forget. A needs assessment was made based on individual interviews with displaced families and through discussions with leaders of NGOs and local churches.
Housing:Only a few displaced families are fortunate enough to stay in UN-‐sponsored governmental camps. The number of families currently accommodated in camp settings constitutes only 1% of the total number of families currently displaced. The vast majority of displaced families assessed to-‐date, are currently living in public parks, church yards, old school buildings, and basements of unfinished buildings. This is where help is most needed especially during the harsh winter season in Kurdistan.
Accordingly, we decided to designate 50% of the gifts that reached FOTF to provide housing for displaced
families who are not residing in camp settings, for a period of at least six months. The cost of hosting one family in one room of a shared apartment is $1500 per family.
Food and Basic Necessities:Since many relief organizations supply humanitarian assistance (health, food, and non-‐food items), we want to designate 30% of our funds for the same kind of help, but for disregarded groups of refugees who don’t get such assistance regularly.
We’d like to designate the remaining 20% for medical emergencies, providing educational and recreational activities for children, and strengthening the capacity of the local church leaders in Amman, Jordan and in the Ankawa district in Erbil, who accepted the responsibility of providing spiritual services to the displaced people in their ministry areas.
Our Commitment:As a start we made the following commitments:
In Jordan: We are currently working with a church we visited during our trip; the Church of Grace, at “Al Mahatta” district (a suburb in Amman).
This Church is a “distribution” church.
We met Pastor Jody Miller, who has been a missionary in Amman, Jordan for the past 16 years. He explained that they unexpectedly got 74 extra families requesting food parcels, while not having any further capacity to help them! I believe we were there at the divinely appointed time to join this church’s effort to help with food parcels for the extra families.
We agreed to help the church to provide food parcels for 180 families at the cost of $5,000 monthly.
In addition, we agreed to pay for the purchase of 1,000 blankets, whether bought locally or shipped from Egypt. One refugee shared that blankets are better than kerosene heaters, as they can’t afford paying for the kerosene!
In Erbil: We are working with local leaders through the help of “Baptist Global Response” (BGR). Below is the list of the initial assistance we promised to provide. Once this list of actions is executed, we will expand to different help actions depending on the availability of funds.
- Housing: 24 apartments for 72 families x $1500 per family to cover rent for 6 months.
- 40 tents for 40 families at $480 each + one heater at $75 per tent.
- 1,000 blankets x $15 a piece.
A Homeschooling Pilot project:One of the displaced groups we met with was led by a school principal who has 30 years of experience as a principal! The group also includes 12 teachers. This inspired us to encourage the principal to start a daily educational program. This will include preschool, and afternoon classes for older children, serving all 70 children in that particular camp.
The estimate cost for this project is $20,000 to purchase equipment, chairs, desks, teaching materials, etc. We are still in the process of acquiring governmental permission. We pray that such an initiative could set the standard for other displaced groups to do the same. I’m working together with two Jordanian professionals to provide a Christian education curriculum. Updates will follow once the plan is confirmed.
The completion deadline for all the above-‐mentioned aid activities is the end of October 2014.
Our Commitment to Meet Other Personal Needs:
Moved by the pressing needs of many of the families we met, we made individual commitments to help. One woman must undergo urgent surgical removal of her uterus and needs $1,000 to do so. Another man is at risk of losing his sight due to glaucoma and can’t afford surgery. My son Bassel suggested we hire a Kurdish teacher to help displaced families learn the language to better integrate at their new location. These are just a few of the very personal needs that individuals shared with us personally.
We are committed to meeting those needs, which no one else will ever learn of.
Closing Reflections:Behind every man and woman, young and old person we spoke with there is a painful story that breaks the heart. All stories repeatedly ended with questions like: “What sin did we commit to be forced to abandon our homes and land?” “Will we ever have the chance to go back home, and if ever possible, how can we return to live once again amongst our Muslim neighbors who betrayed us and looted our properties?” Only God knows the answers to these questions.
We were told about many young ladies and little girls who were taken by force from their families at checkpoints during their escape. Some were sold in the market (human trafficking) and others were given to ISIS jihadists as war loots! The evil crushing that ISIS practiced on entire villages of Christians and Yazidis is unprecedented since the fist days of Islam!
Yet, it was amazing to see many of whom we met able to express a unique courage and high spirit. They were sincerely praying for their persecutors to know Christ! It was obvious that most of them have minimal Biblical knowledge, many of them may not be regular churchgoers, and most may not even be considered “believers” by our standards. Yet these heroes of the faith refused to deny Christ and sacrificed everything— literally everything, to continue bearing His name!
How You Can Help:
- Be an advocate. Erbil is vulnerable to another displacement as ISIS is just 35 kilometers away! Please let the world know about this human catastrophe before it happens again. One of the people we met cried out, “How can the world’s conscience remain silent about what happened to us?” “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31: 8-‐9).
- Pray, pray, pray! When Cain killed Abel, the Lord told Cain that his brother’s blood cries out to Him… the cries of those who were slaughtered for their faith are crying out to the Lord. Please pray for children who lost their fathers and families who lost loved ones. Pray for the thousands who have no idea what their future holds and have literally left everything to follow Christ. Pray for the girls and women subjected to human trafficking. “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord. “I will protect them from those who malign them.” (Psalm 12:5). Arise, oh Lord!
- Give as the Lord leads you. Our hearts are filled with gratitude to the Lord for the $400,000 we received towards this critical cause. Yet the need remains greater and the more funds we have available, the more families we will be able to rescue.