About small, human needs

Mar 27, 2020 | Eaglewatch in Iraq, Urgent cases

Browsing through the data about war activities, crises, or even the coronavirus pandemic, it is difficult not to have the impression that the world loves statistics.

Every day we observe charts and graphs presenting new infections. However, I will not relate to the current situation. I can only say that luckily so far there have been no cases of infection in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. The situation seems to be stable.

However, I would like to base this article on all kinds of statistics and conclusions drawn from their omnipresence. I am not going to cite them here. I only want to show how much they desensitize us and make us drift away from a human being.

Help provided through numbers

It has been three years since I first went to Iraq as the Eaglewatch’s volunteer. During this time I have learned the mechanisms ruling the world of humanitarian help. I have read hundreds of articles and browsed through lots of tables with numbers containing some zeros at the end. Two million of displaced persons, five million fled their homes, a hundred thousand live in camps, twenty thousand received help. Do these numbers speak to you? Especially that it is difficult to visualize all those numbers. Similar statistics accompany every crisis, although not many people are interested in them. Because, at the end of the day, what do they tell us?

There is a fine line dividing genuine help coming from the heart and filling in tables of large projects. Somewhere in the process, a human being is lost, becoming merely one digit in a five or a six-figure statistics that aims at presenting provided aid. Oftentimes, they include a one-time help. And so a pair of latex gloves, a bottle of liquid soap, and other hygiene products become items included in tables and graphs. As an example, I have come across a case, where a 10-dollar-worth package was multiplied by the number of family members, who in the statistics were shown as tens of thousands of aid beneficiaries.

Of course, we have also presented numbers related to larger projects that we have completed. I have listed the number of houses that we have built, the number of animals bought, and the number of workplaces opened. Our aim, however, was not to brag about our activities but to show you the effects of our work and all the good it creates. It is work at the grassroots that we have been trying to do, thanks to your help. When we provide help, we try to make it reasonable and tailored to particular needs, skills and possibilities. At the same time, we are not infallible and some things have turned out differently than we wished: a shop that has failed, someone has gone abroad, some others did not receive help on time. But that’s how life is: unpredictable.

Help does not always mean helping

If a person in need is provided food or water, this naturally counts as a real help. Even those gloves or a diaper pack for children can be a significant support for those who need them. However, statistics should not be created based on something that tomorrow will run out. Such a form of help does not solve the most crucial problem. I will give you several examples of activities that should not be included in statistics but still offer, in my opinion, meaningful assistance for people in need. These examples are based on our own experiences, so I have no objections against adducing them here. I will also add that we have never included them in any record documenting our activities.

First of all, not to harm

In August 2019, Bartek visited a woman living in a tent in an IDP camp. She lost four children, while the remaining five suffer from acute hemophilia. She received expensive plasma-based medicines that were sent to her by a Western aid organization. Such medicines should be stored at a low temperature of maximum +4 Celsius. But the woman did not even have a fridge to store them. No one thought about that. Bartek, who was there at the time, funded the purchase of a small fridge so that the medicines could be properly stored without causing any potential harm to the ill children’s lives. Can something like that be recorded as an aid project? Probably yes. However, we keep it as an anecdote about the lives and needs of people living in camp tents.

A long way

A usual mistake made is include the same people in several different statistics. This creates an unrealistic picture that is not reflected in reality. I have recently come across the data describing the scale of aid provided to displaced persons in Iraqi Kurdistan. They showed that the number of people that received help was higher than those actually in need. How is that? That’s yet another example based on our own experience.

In December I wrote that families living in a wild camp in Khane asked us to build a road, or more accurately a path for them. It was during the season of heavy rainfalls and the soil turned into a quagmire. A month before, those families received livestock from us. However, the swamp surrounding them made everyday feeding and looking after the animals difficult. For less than 2 thousand zlotys, we built a road connecting the tents with the crofts. During our last visit in March, it turned out the path fulfills an additional function. After a February snowfall, it allowed eight families living there to leave their houses, which would have otherwise been impossible.

Around forty people live in this small cluster located away from other tents, mainly mothers with children. In March, they timidly asked us if we could buy them a centrifugal milk separator machine so they could extract milk from fat and produce yogurt and cheese. In Poland, such a machine costs several hundred zlotys. Naturally, I agreed, because I saw how committed they were to looking after the animals they received from us. Should we then multiply those forty people by three – the number of times we helped them?

Similarly, we assisted numerous times a group of women living in another small camp. We financed, among other things, tent covers, the purchase of heaters and heating oil, as well as carpets. Those were small projects which nevertheless made their living conditions more comfortable.

How to help?

First of all, we cannot stop now. The current pandemic crisis will take its toll on foundations and organizations that assist people in different parts of the world. As I have mentioned many times, our activities have for a long time stayed in the shadow of current events. Iraq and terrorism victims are slowly disappearing from the major media headlines. It does not mean, however, that the problem has disappeared.

Help is still needed. During our March visit, which unfortunately needed to be interrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic, we managed to carry out several conversations. You could watch one of them on our YouTube channel – I fought for my land [Interview with Majid]. The second one will be uploaded soon. Others took place behind the camera. We handed out a thousand dollars for the opening of a small tailor’s shop that will provide a livelihood for a deaf woman who lives with her family in Semel near Duhok. Her father is an Iran-Iraq war veteran. Every two months he receives a pension of two thousand zlotys (a thousand per month). It is currently the only livelihood for the entire family. Two days after returning to Poland, I received the picture below. The woman now can start working and hopefully she will be able to support her family.

We have also received several hundred dollars for the purchase of materials that will be used for the continuation of tailoring classes in Khanke, run by the Shengal Charity Organization. Last year, we bought sewing machines and other equipment for tailor’s stands. Now we need to make sure that the materials are provided regularly so the classes can go on.

Help should be provided wisely, but also consistently and constantly. If we stop acting now, the four years of our work can be lost. Meanwhile, the world faces new threats and challenges.

Author: Dawid Czyż

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