Task of Healing Iraq "Far From Over"

More than 120 people were killed by suicide bombings and other attacks by terrorists in Iraq since the interim government took over one month ago. Such ongoing violence and increasing hostage crisis hampered humanitarian response to the broken nation, but according to the Church World Service (CWS), many NGOs (non-government organisations) and international workers are slowly and steadily returning to the field.

“We’re now seeing a measured return of the international humanitarian community to Baghdad,” said CWS Director of Emergency Response Rick Augsburger. “There are now approximately 22 NGOs and 30 international staff back in Baghdad.”

The Islamic fundamentalists have abducted and decapitated foreign civilians working to help build the broken nation upon the dismay of the international community. The extremists also mercilessly slaughtered missionaries on the field, including four Southern Baptists and one Korean.

Church World Service, however, has not suffered any direct loss of personnel, mainly because the group delivers its aid through local Iraqi implementers.

“Church World Service has been able to continue delivering services primarily directed to vulnerable children – by working through national Iraqi staff or organisations,” explained Augsburger, who added that groups are still “in a cautious wait and see mode.”

The main outlet of CWS aid goes through the “All Our Children” campaign. CWS and its Iraqi partners are currently pre-positioning medical supplies for response to “hotspots” like Fallujah – regarded as the terrorists’ hideout – where medical assistance and clean water is lacking. Other All Our Children projects will deliver basic health, hygiene and personal safety information to children in Baghdad and southern Iraq.

“What’s evident in the media is the daily, continuing violence and insecurity in Iraq,” said Augsburger. “But what isn’t so evident is the fact that many children and adults still aren’t able to access basic medical care, dependable water, and electricity.”

According to Augsburger, some $1,200,000 in cash contributions was raised since the inception of All Our Children 14 months ago; $922,000 of the funds have already been delivered through assistant to over 200,000 children in Iraq, through assistance to clinics, hospitals, a children’s theater project, and safe water supply projects.

In addition to the All Our Children campaign, CWS has delivered $1.2 million in medical supplies and $375,000 in “Gift of the Heart” Health Kits and School Kits to Iraq. The Gift of the Heart kits are assembled and contributed by community and church groups across the U.S., and are distributed to impoverished Iraqi families by local community groups in the war-torn nation.

“We’re working with the local Iraqi communities on this. Community committees were formed to assist in determining recipients and in distributing the materials,” said Steve Weaver, one of the CWS members on the field.

According to Weaver, the Gift of the Heart kits have been distributed to numerous communities, including: Hay-Nasal, Hay-Dschulan, Hay-Al Shuhda'a, and Hay-Jhubail. Additionally, some 1,000 health kits were distributed to patients at primary health care centers Al-Garma, Al-Jumhorya, Al-Julan, Al-Wahada, and Dor Al-Cement.

"A big benefit of this project was the very good and cooperative community committees that were formed by the mosques in these different areas,” said a separate CWS correspondent on the field. “It was through their good effort that we were able to ensure that the goods reached the people in the community who needed them most. As Iraqis, these community groups are working together helping each other in the best possible way."

Weaver said he hopes the children will be able to lead normal lives through these efforts.

“Planning is also underway for a program to deliver basic health, hygiene, and personal safety information to children in schools in Baghdad and its environs once schools open in the fall,” said Weaver. “We hope by then that some semblance of normal life will have returned.”

Meanwhile, in California, the CWS executive director and CEO Rev. John L. McCullough encouraged Christians to remember the children and continue carrying on the task.

“The status of children’s health in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s rule and under sanctions was tragic,” said McCullough. “After ‘regime change’ and handover by U.S. forces to Iraq’s provisional authority, the humanitarian sector can report considerable progress in providing basic health and medical care for the country’s children, as well as such vital supporting needs as clean water supplies.

“But the task is far from over.”

Church World Service works through the ministry of 36 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations. According to the CWS, some 16 million of 28 million Iraqis are children.

Pauline J.Chang
Ecumenical Press