“We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone.”
Those of us blessed to live in places of relative security and prosperity are the exception in a world of great complexity and inequity. The great blessing of that prosperity is that we can insulate ourselves from the suffering of others. In equal measure, the curse of our prosperity is that we do not have to experience the suffering of others, if we choose not to. This is not to say that we should walk around with a cloud of guilt hanging over us. The suffering of others should, however, trouble our souls. We should be uncomfortable with the great inequities in the world and find ways within our means to make the world a better place.
Through the nonprofit I founded, I’m focused on Iraq and Afghanistan where I served as a US Army soldier. My experiences there brought me in contact with people who are my life-time friends and heroes. I met Yasmin who once showed me a bullet that someone had left with a note that threatened her with death if she continued to serve on a local Baghdad council. She laughed and continues to serve these many years later. I met Mohammed Alrubyae who, formerly as the District Council Chairman and currently as a member of the Baghdad Provincial Council, brings local Muslim leaders together in a Baghdad Christian Church once a year where they sing the Iraqi national anthem with their Christian neighbors.
There are others whose epic humanitarian efforts are both humbling and inspiring. Hala Alsaraf, who could live a comfortable life in Baghdad, chooses to spend both her money and her time in seeking out those in greatest need, without consideration of religion, ethnicity, or political affiliation. Safi Haidari who, in spite of losing a brother and a cousin to murder and threats to his own life, continues to fight for the well-being of poor women in rural Afghan communities. Fatima Qatalli, a former refugee in Iran under the Taliban regime, and her women colleagues founded a nonprofit to support poor and disadvantaged Afghan women and children in displaced persons camps around their city.
One of the most poignant moments of my life happened in 2010 while I served in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I met as part of a larger group with leaders from a local nomadic tribe that, for a variety of reasons, had settled into a squatters’ camp outside of town. The meeting had something to do with providing support to the community; the details of the meeting are less important than the lesson. I am confident that if we had been able to provide support, it would have been too little for even the immediate needs of the people. As I looked into the eyes of the leader of the bedraggled group, I felt deeply the debilitating effects of poverty and illiteracy in a way I had never experienced before. He stood erect and proud, but there was a sullen resignation and surrendering to the realities of his plight in his eyes. His weather-worn face haunts me still and inspires a sense of urgency in my efforts.
Today, a record number of people have been forced to flee from persecution, conflict, and violence, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. About 40 million of the over 60 million displaced people in the world still live in their own countries. Far away from the media coverage of the refugees crossing international borders are millions who languish anonymously in internally displaced persons camps. These camps, meant to be temporary, quickly become permanent places of hopelessness — filled mostly with women and children.
In a world of inequities, displaced and poor moms survive. This capacity to persist in some of the most austere of environments is a super power. Day after day they rise with the sun, do what is necessary to support and raise their children, and retire with the setting of the sun. Those are super powers worth nurturing. What might happen if these moms were given a chance to learn a new skill? What promise might be fulfilled if they received mentoring and opportunities to start small businesses? What would be the result of someone investing time in teaching them to read? How might things be different if their children, already academically disadvantaged, received early education intervention through a kindergarten? What would be the generational impact of helping one mother?
I am excited about the beginning of a new year. Karadah Project is kicking off the year with a six month vocational training program for 300 displaced Afghan women. These women will receive training in marketable skills, business and literacy instruction, food support, introduction to gender equity resources, and ongoing mentoring. In addition, we’re adding early education intervention through a kindergarten for displaced and poor Afghan children. We’ll expand our agricultural projects that provide families with increased income and better nutrition. We’ll also continue partnership programs with Rotary International, Sister Cities International, and other local and international organizations. We hope to change the world, at least in a small corner of it.
LTC (retired) Rick Burns founded Karadah Project to support peace, stability, and humanitarian efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan after Army deployments to those countries. With our dedicated partners, we are helping displaced and disadvantaged women move themselves and their families out of poverty.
Karadah Project International
The Karadah Project International is an Iowa 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation committed to building sustainable and long-term solutions in partnership with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.