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For a Prosperous, Stable Iraq, Meet Its Humanitarian Needs,
All Our Children Coordinator Says; Private Aid is Crucial

September 10, 2003, NEW YORK CITY - Will the Iraq of the future be prosperous, stable and tolerant -- or will it be suffering, violent and polarized? Keys to Iraq’s success include how well its humanitarian needs are met, said Steve Weaver, coordinator for the multi-agency All Our Children campaign for Iraqi children’s health.

Iraqi children with AoC hygiene kit"Addressing the sensitive political and religious issues will be very difficult if humanitarian needs aren’t being met," he said, emphasizing that while the United States government has a unique role to play, private funding is essential.

Mr. Weaver speaks from experience: Iraqis, including those who bristle at anyone connected to the U.S. military intervention, express deep appreciation for independent people-to-people efforts such as All Our Children.

All Our Children is one of the few humanitarian programs operating in Iraq with only private funding, Mr. Weaver said. "Something will be lost if there aren’t such options," he said. "I know that our partner agencies and Iraqi beneficiaries value this aspect of All Our Children."

Consider these examples:

  • "I wish the children in my community could see you and other Americans like you," Ibrahim, a community leader in suburban Baghdad, told Mr. Weaver in a recent meeting. "Americans to the children are soldiers. They need to see other Americans."
  • Mr. Weaver was having some labels made for personal hygiene kits. "We were concerned that putting ‘From people in North America’ could cause some resistance," he said. "I asked a number of Iraqis about this. All said it was not a problem. As one man put it, ‘We have no problem with the American people.’"
  • A woman in Baghdad’s Huriya neighborhood wept as All Our Children distributed personal hygiene kits in her community. "May God bless you for this," she said. When she learned that ordinary Americans had assembled the kits, she replied, "May God bless them!"

The National Council of Churches U.S.A., Church World Service and other partners founded All Our Children in December 2002 as an extension of their already long-standing response to Iraq’s humanitarian crisis, three wars in 20 years, a repressive regime and more than a decade of trade sanctions.

The United Nations attributes the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children to the 1990s trade sanctions, which left the public health system short of medicine, medical equipment and other supplies; led to the breakdown of water and sanitation systems, and exhausted the resources of many Iraqi families.

Lack of Security is Iraq’s "Number One Issue"

"The Iraqi people remain quite vulnerable on a number of fronts due to the lack of security and the lack of a functioning government," Mr. Weaver said. "Addressing this vulnerability is essential for a smooth transition to a stable future." Unfortunately, security has been deteriorating, especially in recent weeks with a series of car bomb attacks. International humanitarian organizations have received threats.

"Security is the number one issue when you are making plans," said Kevin King of Akron, Pa., Material Resources Manager for the Mennonite Central Committee, an All Our Children partner. He and colleagues were with Mr. Weaver in Baghdad August 18-25 visiting projects. The U.N.’s offices were car bombed August 19. "Whatever we did, we had to evaluate (the security situation)," Mr. King said.

As a result of the car bombings and threats, humanitarian aid groups "are trying to go very low profile," Mr. Weaver said. For example, many are removing identifying signs from their vehicles, offices and projects. Some have suspended operations for a week or two and/or are waiting for security to improve before they recruit additional expatriate staff.

Orphanage benefits from AoC canned tunaOf course, it is Iraq’s citizens who are bearing the greatest burden of scarcity and insecurity. "One morning a taxi driver said to us, ‘Where’s the liberation when my wife can’t safely go to the market anymore, when the price of food has tripled, when electricity and water fail?’" Mr. King said. "It sure is hard for a country to get to reconstruction when the foundation is still shaking."

Several All Our Children Projects Proceed; Others Are On Hold; One Expands

Several All Our Children projects are proceeding, two are on hold as a result of the increased insecurity, and one has been expanded to help - albeit modestly - fill a gap left when, after the August 19 car bomb attack on U.N. headquarters, another group delayed its funding for fresh food deliveries to institutions serving children.

From December 2002 through September 4, 2003, All Our Children has raised $606,748 toward a goal of $1 million, not counting in-kind donations of medical equipment and supplies, personal hygiene kits and canned meat valued at $183,360. To date:

All Our Children has funded local purchase of 100 hospital beds for the Ibn Al-Aheer and Al Khassa Pediatric Hospitals in Mosul, which lacked enough beds for the patients. With two or three children per bed, infections spread and the healing process was delayed as the children could not get enough rest. The beds were scheduled for delivery in early September.

All Our Children has provided medicine, medical supplies, personal hygiene kits, wheelchairs, blankets, bedding and other assistance for Baghdad hospitals and health centers that cater specifically to children and for Baghdad programs serving street children, children separated from their families and special needs children. A church-run orphanage received canned meat. Most goods were distributed February through May.

To meet urgent needs of hospitalized children during late April and early May - a chaotic period just before the declared end of major hostilities - All Our Children provided powdered milk to 18 Baghdad hospitals (sufficient for 1,037 beneficiaries for two weeks) and "dry" food rations (rice, wheat flour, tea, sugar, dried beans, tomato sauce, salt and vegetable oil) to seven Baghdad hospitals (500 beneficiaries).

To this day, the Public Distribution System ("Oil for Food") food basket contains no fresh foods - only a "dry" ration. In April-May, All Our Children funded fresh food deliveries to 21 Baghdad hospitals that had depleted their fresh food stocks (eggs, cheese, fresh tomatoes, potatoes, onions, cabbages and oranges - enough to meet the needs of 2,500 beneficiaries over a two-week period). In August, All Our Children funded fresh food deliveries for 16 hospitals in Basrah, Thi-Qar, Muthanna and Missan governerates in southern Iraq - enough for 4,300 beneficiaries over a two-week period. These hospitals also received canned meat.

In August and September, All Our Children funded fresh food deliveries to institutions serving orphans, street children and special needs children. All Our Children extended its initial two-week commitment by an additional two to four weeks to help fill a gap left when another group put its funding for fresh food distributions on hold after the August 19 car bomb attack. AOC funds also have been earmarked for purchase of refrigerators for the 16 hospitals, pending improved security.

Also on hold pending improved security is a program to help lessen the impact of conflict and post conflict-related trauma on Iraqi children, who, before the war, already were badly traumatized by 12 years of economic sanctions. The three-month program would use puppetry, photography and a book project to help children process the stresses of the war and its aftermath, and to sensitize them about landmines, hygiene and other safety and health issues.

Mr. Weaver, a Mennonite from Lancaster, Pa., also serves as an International Emergency Response Consultant for Church World Service, a global ecumenical humanitarian agency of the NCC’s 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member denominations; they, in turn, comprise 50 million adherents.

Contributions to All Our Children are welcome. By mail, write Church World Service, All Our Children Campaign, Account #6801, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. Phone pledges or credit card donations may be made by calling 1-800-297-1516. On-line contributions to www.churchworldservice.org, where you also may find more information. The All Our Children Web site is www.allourchildren.org

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Pictured:

Two Iraqi children: Tabarek (3-year-old girl) and Murtadha (her 5-year-old brother) pose with their personal hygiene kit.  Photo by Steve Weaver.

Cans of tuna: Maha Falih, the cook at the Alwiya Orphanage in Baghdad, and a young resident prepare to open cans of tuna purchased with All Our Children funds.   All Our Children photo.


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