Is our help still needed in Iraq?
The last few months have been very intense for us. Since February, we have visited Iraq three times and Ukraine twice. Apart from that, we are travelling around Poland telling about the needs of the people to whom we provide aid.
Trips abroad are just a small part of our activities. We spend many hours a day in front of a computer, in the car, or on the phone. Most of it happens here in Poland. Every day we try to reach people who are not indifferent to the fate of the victims of wars and terrorism, and that requires massive effort. Luckily, we do manage to do that. The fact that you are reading this article is the best proof.
Currently, there are around 30,000 foundations active in Poland. Every year another 2,000 are established (according to the REGON registry). Of course not all of them provide humanitarian help. Most non-governmental organizations focus on such activities as sport, hobbies, tourism, culture and art. Only 8% carry out activities related to humanitarian and social help, and only some of them do that abroad.
Humanitarian help can be divided into several categories. Commonly, it can be described as an entirety of relief activities, but according to most definitions it includes providing aid to people in emergency situations, namely during catastrophes, natural disasters and other crises of all kinds, such as wars and armed conflicts. It sounds the same, but humanitarian help is usually short-term and focuses on helping people during emergencies, providing them with food, clothing, shelter and access to medical help. Any activities beyond this, for example providing access to education, are defined as development aid. It all depends on an interpretation, but there are some differences. There is also something called Post Conflict Reconstruction (PCR). It is a complex process, usually middle- to long-term that aims at stimulating economic development and establishing conditions for the development of the private sector. An ideal definition for our “Great Job” Project (you can read more about Great Job here)).
Lack of hope kills
For a long time we’ve been observing a significant decrease in presence of international organizations in Iraq. Three or four years ago, there were many of them, especially around the camps for internally displaced people. Today, we can see empty buildings with faded flags of the countries whose representatives were once present there. The organizations have disappeared, but the camps haven’t. We from the beginning have been trying to help people once forced to flee to return to their homes. We are rebuilding small family businesses allowing them to earn a living and provide for themselves. Of course, aid for people living in camps is still needed, but in a long-term perspective – we are talking about years here – it can lead to learned helplessness.
But the worst is when aid is all of a sudden suspended as it leads to a sense of harm. People feel abandoned, sometimes even betrayed. We can’t blame them for that. They once received hope that was later taken away from them. One can survive a lot, but lack of hope literally kills. If people receive support during the first phase, when food, medicines, tents and clothing were needed, this should be followed by development aid, education, and finally by the post-conflict reconstruction. The latter is the most difficult phase that lasts for years and includes a very wide variety of activities, such as infrastructure reconstruction, restoration of services and private sector development. Of course, we are unable to do it all ourselves. Huge resources are required to achieve that. On the other hand, to some extent we have been successful. We have just opened a hundredth workplace, while another five are currently under construction. We have just raised several houses, out of 72 that we have managed to build so far. We are in the process of building a school in the village of Zomani in Sinjar (you can find a short video about it under this article). If every organization that was once active in Iraq during the last five years had done as much as us, we could easily add another two zeros to each number I have just mentioned. And that would have been a concrete help.
The ongoing war behind our eastern border can make even more humanitarian organizations leave Iraq. Unfortunately, a clear correlation can be observed between the media interest and the sources flowing for humanitarian help. Iraq is not at the center of attention anymore. Some say that it’s one of those places that’s always riddled with problems. Indeed, for the last forty years the country has often been turned into a battlefield. The two Persian Gulf Wars (in 1991 and 2003), the emergence of ISIS (since 2014), the Sunni-Shia war (2006-2008), the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) are only some of the conflicts that took place in Iraq. The Iraqis also say that there is always something wrong going on in their country. But that is not their fault. The wars and conflicts are triggered by power-hungry politicians while the innocent civilians bear the brunt of them. We will not change that, but we can – and we should – take care of the people who have fallen victims to these conflicts.
Providing aid in any place of conflict is our duty. People in Ukraine need our support as well, just like in other countries in the world where blood is flowing, and there are many of them. What’s important is that this aid is not dependent on what the media currently focus on, but it is provided in a persistent and continuous way. When can it be stopped? It’s difficult to come up with a definition for that, but not everything needs to be rigidly defined. The worst that can be done is to cease helping in one place and shift the attention to another one which the global interest is currently focused on. We have been present in Iraq for six years. We have also started supporting the victims of the war in Ukraine. In both cases we are aware that our activities will be long-term. These several years of experience have taught us that there is a difference between providing help in the time of an ongoing war and after the fights are over. I have emphasized many times that we do not have a monopoly on how to help effectively. But we stick to one rule that has proven effective, namely asking the people in need what type of help they require in any given moment.
Author: Dawid Czyż