CRO has an active Board of Directors who contribute their expertise to CRO’s mission. Each month we feature a board member’s own words illuminating the work they have done, and their contribution to ongoing projects.
By Ellen Greeblatt
Preserving the stories of Iraqi refugees to the US is the purpose of the “What Happened?” project of Citizens Reach Out. But helping to create new stories about What Will Happen? is just as crucial.
Ahmed is an example of both parts of this mission. The life path for Ahmed, a 22-year old, changed irrevocably when a bullet went through his chest outside his home in Fallujah seven years ago, paralyzing him from the chest down. He was 15—just 15—when he became completely dependent on others, and he was lucky when he was transported to Jordan—but his luck, such as it was, ran out, as his confinement to bed led to life-threatening bedsores.
Through the interventions of the UNHCR and an Iraqi-American philanthropist, he made his way to Fairmont Hospital in Oakland where he will remain for several months until his bedsores heal.
That’s “What Happened.”
But What Will Happen? Ahmed’s future is here in the USA. When I sat in recently on a meeting at Fairmont Hospital with his doctor, his physical therapists, his social worker and his nurses, I had a sense of the enormous challenges he faces, and the doctor clearly laid out Ahmed’s own responsibilities, stressing, among other things, that Ahmed take an active role in learning English. Ahmed dreams of a career, perhaps as a pharmacist, but before he can pursue a profession, he must learn English, so I thought about how to put the resources of the Bay Area to work for him.
Contacting the UC Berkeley Near Eastern Studies Department seemed a natural step, and they posted my flyers explaining Ahmed’s need for conversation partners. So far, two young women, pictured here, both studying Arabic, have responded. Dalia is an Iraqi-American, while Katya is European-American, and they visit Ahmed regularly (Katya often with another UC student) to help him with English as well as to provide him with American friends his own age. Ahmed’s good nature and hard work are paying off in improved English, but he is giving back as well—Dalia and Katya are getting some help with their Arabic studies, and Ahmed converses with both young women over Facebook as well as in their face-to-face meetings at Fairmont Hospital.
Ahmed will continue to need help for some time—in English as well as for finding a living situation suitable for a disabled person. As a first step, CRO is launching a campaign to raise money for a wheelchair for Ahmed. We’re posting it on our Reaching Out link on our CRO website. Please check it out.
Ellen Greenblatt, Board of Directors, CRO
On April 20th Joan Baez and the Saadoun Al Bayati Ensemble played at CRO’s sold out benefit concert at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. It was an exhilarating night of Joan’s singing and dancing, authentic Iraqi music, and storytelling by Iraqis who lived through the war. All of you who attended made it possible for CRO to further the work of the “What Happened?” Project, an initiative to make public the consequences of the Iraq war.
Upcoming events include our hosting Haider Hamza, the Iraqi journalist who created the This American Life piece “Talk to an Iraqi.” He and CRO’s Iraqi storytellers will be featured at the Muslim/Non Muslim Dialogue at Dominican University on October 11 in San Rafael, California as well as on the UC Berkeley campus this Fall.
We are reignited in our effort to make the stories of what happened to Iraqis public. We continue to interview and record their stories and make them available on our website. Please continue to pass the word about our work.
You can help us by making a donation to pay for translations, transcribing, and transportation. Just click on the donate button to the right. We remain a volunteer organization so everything you give goes to the work itself.
Best in Peace,