Archive for Iraq

Healing the Wounds of War

by Mary Patterson

I watch my daughter jump into the still pool. Ripples spread out then bounce back. I think about war, about the thousands of unknown waves spreading for years across families and continents. How one bomb or death threat can fling a family across the ocean for generations to come.

Kansas City has received scores of refugees from Iraqi Operation Enduring Freedom over the past 2 years. The first family came to Kansas in 2007. “It was like landing on the moon,” they say. Clever, funny, and educated, they left a country that is no longer safe for them. Sometimes these refugees had to drive a different car every morning in Iraq, or had to take different routes to school to avoid bombs. They endured kidnappings and death threats. Houses were burned. Some fled without even gathering family photos.

One boy told me that he watched the bombs fall from the rooftop of his home. “Why,” I asked, “didn’t you go into the basement?” He looked at me blankly, “What difference would it have made?” We naively forget the power of bombs.

4.7 million Iraqis have been forced to leave their homes since the beginning of the Iraq war—roughly 2 million as refugees and another 2.7 million internally displaced. The U.S. allowed 12,000 Iraqis into this country in 2008 and are set to allow only 17,000 in 2009. This is in stark contrast to the late 1970’s when over 130,000 Vietnamese were allowed to resettle here. Clearly, the U.S. has the capacity to allow more war victims into our country.

The Iraqis come to the U.S. as political refugees and are sponsored by agencies that provide help with Foodstamps, Medicaid, and cash assistance. The sponsoring agencies furnish apartments with furniture and pick refugees up from the airport. They receive a social security number and then must wait 5 years to become a U.S. Citizen.

Here in Kansas City Iraqis begin a whole new life. They want to know how to get a bank account, how to buy a car, how to get a job. Iraqis need help finding English classes, getting their driver’s license, negotiating the healthcare system. One day I got a call, “My son’s school says they need pipe cleaners and puff balls. What are these things? We have looked everywhere to find out.” Another family asked me how to cook acorns.

I warn them that the first Wednesday of every month there will be sirens. Thunderstorms strike terror and bring back frightening memories of the bombs. They have no idea why Americans insist on having animals in our homes. They ask me if Americans are really like those people on The Jerry Springer Show.

It is difficult finding work despite their high education and excellent English skills. Job interviewers sometimes ask, “So are Iraqi’s glad America came?” They are asked, “Are you Sunni or Shiite?” Engineers are told they are overqualified for many positions. These are difficult times in the U.S.and especially difficult for Muslims from a foreign land.

Health problems are numerous. War has meant 7 years with no healthcare. High blood pressure went unchecked. Heart problems, diabetes and children’s handicaps did not get proper treatment. Stress has surfaced, physically and mentally. There are sleep problems. The long healthcare void has touched just about every single refugee family.

Fortunately, the Iraqis are hopeful people. The children do great in school. Their birthday parties are loud, joyous occasions. At one party in the park, we were cheering the birthday boy so loudly that I noticed other picnics stopping to stare. Hannah Montana is popular, as are the Power Rangers. Soccer balls and bikes are scattered around and there is lots of running and jumping.  Headstart has helped the preschoolers learn English is just a few months. English programs at the public elementary and high school levels have helped tremendously.

Iraqi food is delicious and they always offer it freely. The first winter they were here, I told a woman how much I liked her coat. Immediately, she took it off, put it in a bag and handed it to me. Whenever you tell Iraqis that you like a watch, or jewelry, they take it off and it is yours. So, caution is advised when complimenting! People who have lost everything giving all they have. This is the gift we have received in Kansas City. Let us do all we can to heal the wounds of war.



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Middle East meets Midwest

By Dick Brummel

Baghdad and Atchison will meet this fall in the person of Humam alMukhtar, an 18-year-old Iraqi refugee. He comes to the U.S. to attend Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas as a participant in the Iraqi Student Project (ISP), a non-profit organization committed to the rebuilding of his war torn nation. Humam will bring his ancient culture to the U.S. with the help of many representatives and friends of the ancient Benedictine monastic tradition which has strong routes in the Atchison area.

The Iraqi Student Project (ISP) describes itself as “a grass-roots effort to help young people who have studied in Iraq acquire the education they need to participate in rebuilding their country. To this end, ISP seeks the help of American colleges to offer these students that which the United States does very well: excellent undergraduate education.” ISP brings together qualified students and willing American communities. The students live in Iraq or have sought refuge elsewhere in the Middle East and would otherwise be unable to attend university. In the Middle East, ISP identifies qualified students and sees them through the processes of university admission and application for a student visa to the United States.  Stateside, ISP seeks out universities willing to provide tuition waivers for the students and helps local support groups whose task it is to provide all other financial, emotional, etc. support. The local groups are 100% volunteer.

The project was begun by Gabe Huck and Theresa Kubasak who retired to Damascus after careers in publishing and education. They and their stateside supporters are committed to overcoming the massive destruction in Iraq (including an education system that the Chronicle of Higher Education has described as “near collapse.”) and sharply limited immigration and scholarship opportunities in the U.S.

Humam alMukhtar currently lives in Damascus with his parents and younger sister. He was sent there from Baghdad three years ago when his parents began to fear for his safety amid the violence in his hometown. In addition to his participation in the Writers’ Workshop in Damascus which helps students applying for American universities improve their English skills, he volunteers with the  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to do translation.

In Atchison, the project has been made possible through the leadership of the Benedictine community. Benedictine College has waived tuition for Humam for his four years there. Led by the Monastery of Mount St. Scholastica, the Abbey of St. Benedict in Atchison and the Monastery of St. Scholastica in Fort Smith, Arkansas have stepped forward as major donors. Benedictine oblates from Mount St. Scholastica and faculty and students from Benedictine College have also joined in the support effort.

The Support Group in Atchison is currently busy with the many logistical activities related to setting up a college student for his first year on campus. Every need from winter clothing to the arrival greeting at Kansas City International Airport are being identified and volunteers sought to help. Even though the major donors have been very generous, there still is a substantial gap in the budget for Humam’s needs.

Anyone wishing to donate money may send their tax deductible gift to:

c/o Mr. John Gioia

6332 W 100th Ter
Overland Park, KS  66212

For more information on the project or to volunteer, contact:

Sister Thomasita Homan,
Mount St. Scholastic Monastery
801 South 8th Street
Atchison, KS 66002-2724

If the internet is your preferred source, the national staff of ISP has a website and the National Catholic Reporter recently published a very informative article about the first ISP class to arrive in the U.S. .

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