13 January 2005
This week, I would like to depart from my usual literary attempts to talk to you about some practical matters. I am doing this because I have received several emails from folks asking how they can get involved in making Iraq a better place for both the Iraqi people and for the American soldiers stationed over there. No matter what your background or interest, there are ways you can help.
I work in the Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Center in Amman, Jordan, an organization entirely devoted to development issues in Iraq. All of the people in my office are U.S. Army Civil Affairs personnel who served for a year in Iraq. We now work in Amman because the Jordanian capital is the main conduit between Iraq and the outside world. Jordan is a safe, stable, relatively advanced neighboring country with land, air, and sea (Port of Aqaba) access into Iraq. Consequently, many multinational corporations and international aid agencies with a focus on Iraq have operations in Amman. The people on my team travel frequently back and forth between Jordan and Iraq, facilitating interaction between Iraqis and those wishing to connect with them for whatever reason.
Creating jobs in Iraq is one of our major areas of concentration. The agriculture, construction, and information technology sectors are the subject of special focus. If you or someone you know works in any part of any of these industries, there are Iraqis you can help.
Take agriculture as an example. The Iraqis need assistance with production, distribution, and food processing. For thousands of years, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates was the breadbasket of the region. Saddam Hussein’s atrocious land management screwed that all up to the point where Iraq is now a net importer of food. This situation can be reversed, with the right amount of know-how and commitment from the outside. Our office has access to farming cooperatives throughout Iraq and people in the agricultural ministry in Baghdad who are eager to work on creative solutions to revive this potentially lucrative and stabilizing part of their economy. As for construction, homes and shopping malls need to be built. In the information technology world, software and network engineers need to be trained. Companies and government ministries need to be automated. Activity in these sectors puts people to work. Working people are happy people--the kind of people who don’t have the time or the interest to build car bombs.
Our office also works with Iraqis in need of urgent medical care. There are people over there with conditions or injuries that require the kind of treatment only found abroad. If you are interested in providing such care or in sponsoring an Iraqi family while they visit the States for treatment of a loved one, please get in touch with us.
Education is a big issue in Iraq. From textbooks to curriculums to student and faculty exchanges, there are ways you can get involved.
Are you a Mason or a Rotarian or a member of some other civic organization? Why not start chapters in Iraq? Under Saddam, such organizations were outlawed because they were viewed as potentially subversive. Consequently, Iraq lacks that good undergrowth of civil society that is necessary for a democracy to take root and grow.
If you belong to a church or a mosque that would like to partner up with a church or mosque in Iraq, let us know. We’ll help you find a sister community with whom you can build life-long bonds, while demonstrating the highest ideal of all religions, that of practical compassion.
Do you own an art gallery or a gift shop? There are hundreds of Iraqi artists and craftsmen looking for places to display and market their work.
What Iraqis desperately want is to be connected—technologically, culturally, financially, etc. For so long, they were cut off from the outside world. Investment and knowledge transfer are needed across the board. Again, whatever it is you’re into, there is someone in Iraq who’d like to connect with you.
Finally, let us not forget the American soldiers whose days are filled with alternating moments of boredom, homesickness, terror, and quiet reflection. If you know a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine in Iraq, send them a letter. Call their families to make sure they’re okay, too. If you have a Guardsman or Reservist in your company deployed right now, keep in touch with them and make a big deal about it when they come home. (And make sure you don’t punish them professionally in any way for serving.) If you’d like to adopt a unit, let us know. We can link you up with battalions in the field who would love to get care packages of books, DVDs, hand sanitizer, phone cards, Gatorade powder, or whatever. (Just please, no more playing cards. There must be a million packs of playing cards in Iraq already!)
It is frustrating when you want to help but don’t know how. If you feel this way, please allow me to offer the services of my office. We work with Iraqi and Coalition government agencies, private business firms, and international aid and development agencies on a daily basis. You tell us what you want to do and we can help direct your energies and interests.
The Iraqi people are good people. The American military folk serving in Iraq are good people. All of them are trying to take what was a backward, disconnected, nightmare of a country and make it a decent place to live. If you would like to pick up a metaphorical shovel and put your back into this noble work, do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will do my best to make sure you’re glad you did.
Thank you for your time and attention and for allowing me to deviate from our regular programming. God willing, I’ll be back next week with more tales of adventure from across the sea.