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Northern Iraq: Waiting to go home

Posted by jessmalter on 3 September, 2008

Jessica Malter blogs from a region of Northern Iraq bordering Iran and Turkey where she joined an IRC team bringing clean water to displaced villagers.

In the remote Qandil mountain range in Northern Iraq, Turkey and Iran have been conducting military maneuvers to rid the region of Kurdish separatist groups believed to be based in the area. The ongoing bombing and shelling has terrified hundreds of villagers who live there, disrupting their tranquil way of life and sending them running.

Over the past several months 120 families have fled the fighting and are living in what has come to be known as the Mangory Bridge Camp.

“We hid in the caves around our villages for 20 days hoping the shelling and bombing would stop, but it only got worse so we came here,” Mer told me, pictured here with her daughter. “It is only a few hours from our home, but it is peaceful. Now we are just waiting. We want to go home as there is no life for us here, but it is still too dangerous.”

One of the biggest problems the families face in the camp is a lack of clean water. Warda, pictured outside of her hut, told me she thinks her daughter is sick from drinking dirty water.

“We know the water is dirty because we have to use it to wash clothes and dishes,” she says. “The children play in it and sometimes end up drinking it, even though we have told them not to.”

When the IRC learned that residents of the camp were in need of drinking water, they moved quickly to get three water tanks installed the area. The tanks were delivered the day I visited the camp and are being connected to a nearby spring, which will provide the much needed clean water.

The women in the camp say they are very happy about the arrival of the new water tanks. They say it will make their daily routine easier and will keep their children healthy. They say their main concern now is where they will go when they are forced to leave the Mangory Bridge Camp.

In a month’s time the water will rise and the families will have to abandon the area. “We don’t know where we will go if the bombing and shelling hasn’t stopped by then,” said Seimya, pictured on the right. “It would be best if we could go to the town a few miles away, but we have no money to pay for rent. We are hoping the local authorities will help and provide us with some simple houses if we can’t go home.”

After four months of being away from their village, the children in the camp are bored and desperate to get home. They say they have very little to do here and back home they can at least help their families tend to their sheep and crops and have more space to play. This summer, their main activity has been racing across the stream that runs through the camp.

With the new school year just weeks away, parents in the camp are extremely concerned about the children missing school. Some are wondering if they should take their chances and go back to their village or try to find a place to settle that’s close to a school that would welcome the children. The children are anxious about the situation as well. “I like school,” Peshraw told me. He’s the one on the far left. “I want to be there on the first day. I don’t want to fall behind.”

The IRC is now speaking with local authorities on behalf of the displaced villagers to try and come up with a relocation plan that will enable the children to attend school and provide a safe place for the families to live until the violence subsides and they can safely return home.

Posted in children, education, MiddleEast, photos, refugees, war | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Relief for refugees from South Ossetia

Posted by Peter Biro on 15 August, 2008

distributions at the Mikhailovskoye school in Vladikavkaz
                                                                                                  Photo: Thomas Hill/The IRC
Last week, the IRC’s team in the North Ossetian capital Vladikavkaz distributed hygiene articles, bedding, cleaning supplies and kitchen utensils at two schools sheltering 120 children, mothers and teachers who were evacuated from South Ossetia as tensions mounted between Russia and Georgia. The IRC’s Caucasus director Thomas Hill took this photo of distributions at the Mikhailovskoye school in Vladikavkaz.

How You Can Help: Donate now to help the IRC assist victims of the crisis in the Georgia region and other displaced people around the world.

Posted in Caucasus, emergencies, howtohelp, photos | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugees help break swimming record / Phoenix

Posted by Wynne Boelt on 14 August, 2008


Dipendra Chauhan and Prithi Man Tamang, Bhutanese refugees who competed in the record-breaking relay in Phoenix. Photos: Megan O’Connor/The IRC
Like the Olympic swimmers breaking records in Beijing this week, swimmers in Phoenix  —  including two Bhutanese refugees resettled by the International Rescue Committee —  broke a swimming record on Sunday.

A group of 236 swimmers set a new Guinness World Record for the most participants to swim one pool length each in a one-hour relay.  The event, the Kids Saving Kids Relay, raised funds and awareness for the Foundation for Aquatic Safety and Training (FAST), which teaches water safety skills. 

The two refugees, Dipendra Chauhan, 15, and Prithi Man Tamang, 20, became friends while living in a camp for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.  Dipendra and Prithi Man were resettled along with their families in Phoenix by the IRC earlier this year. They were asked to represent Arizona refugees and the IRC by swimming in the relay.

Dipendra races his lap in the relay

Dipendra races his lap in the relay

“We are very happy to be here in the United States, and in Phoenix.  The mountains remind my parents of Bhutan,” Dipendra says.

The IRC partnered with FAST in 2007 to teach refugee children and parents in Phoenix the importance of water safety.   With so many swimming pools in the Phoenix area, drowning is a major concern, and refugees may not be familiar with the dangers of pools.  Through the FAST program, competitive swimmers work with experienced swimming instructors to teach water safety one-on-one to refugee  children . 

The most recent FAST classes took place this summer and included 16 Burundian refugee children resettled by the IRC. 

“The Phoenix community has literally jumped right in, with hundreds of volunteers, and a great deal of support,” Megan O’Connor, IRC development associate in Phoenix, says. “The Hubbard Swim School of Phoenix has generously donated free pool usage, and many parents have donated swimsuits and towels as well as their time.”

Check back next week here for a Q&A with Joe Zemaitis, the founder and president of FAST. 

Posted in children, photos, refugees, UnitedStates | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Life can be hard for mothers-to-be / Uganda

Posted by Joanne Offer on 14 August, 2008

Namoe Helen attends an antenatal clinic where IRC offers mothers-to-be voluntary counseling and testing for HIV.

Namoe Helen attends an antenatal clinic where the IRC offers mothers-to-be voluntary counseling and testing for HIV. Photos: Joanne Offer/The IRC

Joanne Offer is in Uganda, where the International Rescue Committee is working with Ugandan communities affected by conflict as well as refugees from neighboring Sudan. Read all her latest posts here.

I meet Namoe Helen at ante-natal class. She’s pregnant with her second child and has come to St Pius Kidepo health center in Moroto district for a check up. Pregnant women can also get tested for HIV as part of IRC’s work to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.Namoe Helen says, “I’ve been tested for HIV as a precaution and I’m negative. It’s good to be tested because the virus is becoming very widespread; it’s not just affecting town people, it’s in the villages too.”

Examining Namoe Helen is sister Marygoretti, who’s been running the antenatal clinic for the past few months. Marygoretti is originally from eastern Uganda and was shocked by the conditions in Karamoja.

Sister Marygoretti examines Namoe Helen on her latest visit to the ante-natal clinic where women can also get health advice and mosquito nets to prevent malaria.

Sister Marygoretti examines Namoe Helen on her latest visit to the ante-natal clinic where women can also get health advice and mosquito nets to prevent malaria.

She says, “It’s so different here. When you look at the living conditions, you see it’s very harsh. Poor sanitation is a big problem and most of the health conditions are related to this. Nutrition is also a big problem. This year, nothing has grown. But the women here get food rations to help them during pregnancy.”

Soon, barefooted, Namoe Helen is beginning her long walk home. It will take her an hour. Life can be hard for mothers-to-be here in Karamoja.

Posted in Africa, Aids, health, photos, women | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ugandan Kids: From drudge work to homework [Photo Share]

Posted by Joanne Offer on 6 August, 2008

Former working children who are now back in school thanks to IRC
Former working children who are now back in school thanks to the IRC  Photos: Joanne Offer/The IRC
Joanne Offer is currently in northern Uganda, where the IRC is working with Ugandan communities affected by conflict as well as refugees from neighboring Sudan.

In Moroto District, northern Uganda, the International Rescue Committee is helping working children to get out of the workplace and back in to school.Children who come from poor backgrounds often have to drop out of school to earn money to help their families. For example, Lemukol-Betty, 15, used to work in a quarry, breaking up stones for just 5,000 Shillings a month – that’s about US$3. She says, “I worked all day and sat in the sun for many, many hours. The work was very hard and I didn’t get any food or water while I was there.”

Korobe-John and Lemukol-Betty are happy to be back in the classroom. Before, they worked selling goods on the street and breaking stones in a quarry.

Korobe-John and Lemukol-Betty are happy to be back in the classroom. Before, they worked selling goods on the street and breaking stones in a quarry.

The IRC is sponsoring children – like the class pictured here – to attend school and to get basic school materials such as uniforms and textbooks. We’re also going to train teachers and work with the Department of Education to improve the quality of education on offer for these children.

Lemukol-Betty’s classmate Korobe-John, 17, used to be a street-seller. He says, “If I come to school, I will make friends and we can share things. I am learning skills that will help me help my family back at home. They are happy that I come to school. They don’t want me to keep working.”

Posted in Africa, children, photos | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »