by Gordon Lewis
I hope you have found the articles in this special issue of All the World interesting. We believe the story of the small part The Salvation Army has played in the life of Iraq is one worth telling. The list of completed projects is very significant but bricks-and-mortar achievements pale into insignificance alongside the relationships built and lasting friendships made.
As each article arrived in our office we became conscious that this is not simply a historical document. Every author confessed to the indelible mark left on their lives by the experience of humanitarian ministry in Iraq. The events may be historical but the emotional and spiritual links remain.
This leaves us asking a pertinent question: what about the future? Rarely a day passes without news from Iraq of large-scale loss of life. Two out of five adults are assessed as being traumatised. Fifty per cent of the working-age population is unemployed. Many schools have closed because of insecurity. Thousands of doctors, teachers and other professionals have been murdered. Many of the rest have fled.
The problems facing Iraq’s neighbours are daunting, too. By early 2007, two million Iraqis and some four million long-term Palestinian refugees had made the Middle East the biggest refugee-hosting region in the world. You can add to this nearly two million displaced people inside Iraq.
|Two boys look through the window of their refurbished school|
Despite these mind-blowing numbers, a recent United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) report stated: ‘It is scarcely surprising so many have left [Iraq]. It is perhaps more surprising that so many have stayed.’ Surprising, yes, but good people with hearts of compassion and spirits of determination have stayed and are working hard to help rebuild their communities. They will need our continued support.
The Salvation Army began work in Iraq knowing it would not stay for long. Building on lessons learned from previous programmes in Bosnia and Afghanistan, we encouraged the creation of a local humanitarian organisation, a non-governmental organisation comprised of and led by Iraqi nationals.
Many Iraqis who had been employed by The Salvation Army took up this challenge and a national organisation, independent from The Salvation Army, was established and registered. This new organisation is already completing projects that are improving the lives of thousands of people, as reported on the previous page.
I, for one, salute the determination of these individuals who put their lives on the line each day as they implement humanitarian programmes for the benefit of their local communities.
There are no easy solutions. Two million displaced people will include, on average, 540,000 children of school age, which means thousands of new classrooms. Then you need 9,000 teachers and blackboards, desks, books and other teaching materials – already, on education alone, you need tens of millions of dollars.
Radhouane Nouicer, UNHCR’s Director of Middle East Operations, says: ‘You can’t pay all their rents, you can’t feed everybody ... But you can help around the edges – provide safety nets for the most vulnerable, help the governments out with infrastructure and personnel, try to get other countries to share the responsibilities and the costs. We have to do all of that – and at the same time pray for a quick end to the violence in Iraq. Because, at the end of the day, that is the only real solution.’
His pragmatism for moulding the practical with the spiritual encourages me greatly.
The Salvation Army continues to stand alongside the people of Iraq with practical support and technical advice – but most of all, with prayer for a peaceful future.