Thursday, May 21, 2009

Family Update

I've just completed the latest newsletter for the Iraq Family Relief Fund and will be mailing out hard copies to donors. The electronic version will be available on this blog in another day or two. The big story, as far as the families go, is Amal Maseer's re-settlement in New Paltz, New York where she and her 3 children are now living. The children are slowly adjusting to their new life. Abeer, 17, Amal's oldest, attended her junior prom this month. She went with her girlfriends and, I have no doubt, looked absolutely lovely. Abeer's brothers, Anoush and Omer, are doing exceptionally well in school, according to their mom. Both boys are now taking hip hop dance lessons in addition to enjoying other extracurricular activities.

In March when my wife and I drove to New Paltz to visit the family, I gave the boys a used Apple laptop. It's a very old model with no Internet access and less than one gigabyte of memory. But its word processing software still gets the job done. The boys use this computer for some of their homework assignments even while they enjoy poking fun at its relative antiquity. Amal told me that the first night they had the computer they took turns making up jokes about the laptop's age. Anoush told his brother it was so old it once belonged to Cleopatra. Omer said the screen would show them what the Hanging Gardens of Babylon actually looked like. And so on. Several months have gone by since our visit and they're still making up jokes like these.

At least Omer and his family are not dodging bullets in Baghdad or reeling from car bomb explosions. Sadly, this past Wednesday a car bomb went off in a poor, Shia neighborhood in the capital. It happened around 7 in the evening while people were shopping or sitting in restaurants. The death toll now stands at 41 with over 76 people wounded.

As far as I know, nobody in our Baghdad families was hurt. I won't know for sure until one of them calls me. These days I can't phone any of them since their land lines are usually out of service. They have to borrow a mobile phone in order to get in touch with me. I did receive one phone message today. It was from Siham, a mother with 4 sons. She told me she is very sick and hopes I can send her enough to buy some groceries for her family.

The Iraqi government continues to provide food rations. The food rationing system was begun under Saddam's regime when U.S. and UK-enforced sanctions were devastating the economy. The rations were never adequate but they did prevent starvation. Today, despite the lifting of sanctions, many families still depend on government-supplied rations. Our families in Baghdad tell me that rations are much less than they used to be and only include a portion of the items that once were part of the monthly food basket. Because of this shortfall, families have to shop in the local markets where food prices are much higher than they were before the invasion.

Siham's family does not have a reliable source of income to cover the cost of food. Her husband is too sick to work. One of her two older sons has a job but his wages are very low. In order to put food on the table for her family, Siham regularly runs up a tab at the stores where she shops. The Family Relief Fund is critical to helping this family keep its grocery debt under control by providing a monthly food subsidy.

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