CWS offers hope in Iraq

Amid violence, Church World Service vowed to continue to focus on a children and youth in Iraq.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | March 17, 2004

"While security issues have not impeded our humanitarian efforts to any degree, everything we do is much more 'considered' due to the security challenges."

—Donna Derr

Even amid deadly violence, Church World Service (CWS) vowed to continue to focus on a special population in Iraq children and youth.

Three days before the year anniversary of the U.S. preemptive strike on Iraq, a deadly car bomb destroyed a five-story hotel in central Baghdad, killing 27 people and wounding 41.

The explosion was so powerful it blew bricks, furniture and other debris hundreds of yards from the hotel.

Amid this most recent violence, CWS and its partners are bringing a measure of hope to Iraq's young people through projects designed to address basic human need on both physical and spiritual levels.

"Security obviously remains a concern for everyone in Iraq," said Donna Derr, CWS associate director for international response. "Despite the contention of the CPA and allies that it is getting better, seemingly random attacks do not seem to be diminishing."

The CPA, or Coalition Provisional Authority, is headed by U.S. governor in Iraq Paul Bremer, employs 6,000 people including contractors, has representatives from 24 countries, oversees 17,000 development projects and imports food and fuel.

For CWS representatives and partners working in Iraq, security training has helped them be more aware of safety precautions they need to take when working or traveling in the country, Derr said.

"While security issues have not impeded our humanitarian efforts to any degree, everything we do is much more 'considered' due to the security challenges," she said.

As the one-year anniversary of the war on Iraq approaches, global debate continues to rage over the occupation of Iraq.

On Wednesday the new leader of Spain said the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq was "turning into a fiasco."

Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he plans to pull Spain's 1,300 troops out of Iraq by June 30.

Although CWS and many other faith-based groups continue to advocate for peace, staff and partners on the ground in Iraq are not engaged in advocacy or position-taking, said Derr, "but have been focused on the humanitarian mandate that is the core of their work."

That work is focused on bringing hope and basic life needs to Iraq's youngest residents through a campaign called "All Our Children."

"All Our Children" was co-founded by CWS and other faith-based humanitarian agencies dedicated to serving Iraqi children.

CWS has provided funding for repairs to the Bait al Tuful social institution, which provides shelter and care for street children.

Working with Enfants du Monde, a non-governmental organization (NGO), and the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA), Bait al Tuful serves as a transitional place where children have access to education, hygiene and protection.

The project also provides training for MOLSA social workers in recreational and reintegration activities intended to assist children's reintegration into society.

CWS also affirmed a proposal from the Iraqi Help and Development Organization to provide health assessments and support for schoolchildren.

This is the first "All Our Children" project with an Iraqi NGO and is designed to help build capacity for this Iraqi sector.

CWS and its partners also affirmed the continuation of an "All Our Children" theater project for a third three-month series. The project, which began in December, funds a troupe of Iraqi performers who bring live theater to traumatized Iraqi children in hospitals, orphanages, clinics and poor neighborhoods. Institution managers report that children who were previously unresponsive became animated and interacted with the play's characters, two cats in a dialogue about love and war, words that sound similar in Arabic.

CWS and other "All Our Children" campaign partners indicated they will continue seeking support for projects beyond the campaign's original June 2004 target date.

Among the most recent projects are additions to the Kerbala Pediatric Hospital, deliveries of fresh food to orphanages and fresh water to hospitals in Baghdad, and the provision of refrigeration and cooking equipment to Baghdad hospitals.

Additional "All Our Children" projects supported by CWS have included local purchase of 100 beds for the Ibn Al-Aheer and Al Khassa Pediatric Hospitals in Mosul, as well as purchase and distribution of fresh foods for 37 hospitals in Baghdad and Basra enough for three meals a day for 5,000 children over a 10-day period. CWS also supported fresh food distributions to 21 hospitals over a two-week period in April and May with supplementary deliveries of dry food to seven hospitals and powdered milk to 18 hospitals.

" 'All Our Children' fills a niche for helping small, highly effective projects," said CWS Executive Director and CEO the Rev. John L. McCullough. "In the midst of all the bad news, on all sides, the projects serve as valuable communication about how help can be given. What we see is human need, and we can help. With support, we hope to continue the 'All Our Children' efforts through the end of this year."

In addition to the "All Our Children" campaign, CWS has shipped nearly 15,000 of its "Gift of the Heart" school Kits and 16,450 "Gift of the Heart" health kits to Iraq for distribution this spring.

CWS works closely with its partner agency, the Middle East Council of Churches.

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