History has proven that in the face of great evil, ordinary people rise up to do extraordinary things. These ordinary people deserve both our respect and our support. If we are not careful, however, we will dismiss or overlook these modern-day super heroes. The rhetoric of the day declares whole peoples irredeemable and not worthy of our finite resources. By not recognizing and supporting the efforts of these grassroots champions of good, we miss opportunities to defeat the enemies of civil society. We all lose, then.
Consider my friend, Mohameed Alrubaye, an elected member of the Baghdad Provincial Council. I first met Mohameed while deployed in 2008 with the US Army to Karadah, a southeast Baghdad sub district. Mohameed served as the chairman of the Karadah District Council, which represents the approximately 200,000 citizens of Karadah. He was a force of nature, deftly and openly leading in an insecure environment where assassinations and kidnapping of influential people were common. Before I left Karadah in late 2008, we worked together to form a Sister Cities International partnership between Karadah and Council Bluffs, Iowa. That partnership is a lasting legacy to Mohameed’s ability to reach out to people and form working partnerships. He has now taken his leadership skills to the Baghdad Provincial Council where he now serves.
Mohameed has worked hard to bridge divides within Baghdad society. Using his influence, he is reaching out to Iraqi minorities. Mohameed could easily be successful without the support of Christians in Baghdad. At great personal risk, however, he feels it is important to create an inclusive community where all feel welcome and secure. This is against a backdrop of an intolerant and brutal Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) organization whose stated mission is to annihilate any opposition to its narrowly defined religious ideology. Mohameed said,
I have relationships with all the Christian priests,
my brothers, and the Church. I’ve attended
their special occasions and holidays for more
than 20 years.
Mohameed has used his influence to encourage fellow Muslim leaders and police officials to join him at Christian religious celebrations to build critical relationships. Mohameed said about the linked video below:
This video brings me to tears, singing the Iraqi national anthem with my
Christian and Muslim brothers and praying together for Iraq.
Iraqi Christians and Muslims praying together. That is certainly not an image we see often. These important relationships are being forged with tenacity and courage by modern-day super heroes. They operate, usually, below the radar of most media coverage. They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I am honored and humbled to call many of them personal friends.
Karadah Project International, a nonprofit committed to building sustainable and long-term solutions in partnership with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, partners with Sister Cities International, Rotary International, Kiwanis International, Veterans for American Ideals, and other civic organizations to seek out and work with these ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
LTC (retired) Rick Burns is founder and president of The Karadah Project International, an Iowa 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation working in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a proud member of the Council Bluffs Iowa Sister Cities International Board of Directors, US Global Leadership Coalition — Iowa Advisory Committee, Atlantic Iowa Rotary Club, Elk Horn Iowa American Legion, Kiwanis of Lansing, Kansas, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and founding member of Soccer Salam; all organizations making positive and significant impacts on the world.
I founded Karadah Project International because of the unique and personal experiences I had with the extraordinary people I met while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. These experiences, past and present, with people who are courageously fighting for peace and stability in their communities inspire and animate me. While geographically in faraway places, refugees, displaced persons, and others suffering under the chaos of war are never far from my thoughts and concerns.
As a small organization, I’m grateful for the power of partnerships with other organizations filled with people who share my passion for supporting the efforts of good people making a difference in the world. One of these organizations is Rotary International, but more specifically individual Rotary Clubs spread all over the world.
In a world that seems hell-bent on its own destruction, there has never been a greater need for citizen diplomacy. That is not to say that we do not need a strong military and a strong diplomatic corps. Both of these are necessary in the world we have created and provide unheralded and heroic service to our nation and to the world through their service. There is a role, however, for active public diplomacy conducted by citizens. Indeed, citizen diplomacy both strengthens and is complementary to our professional diplomatic and military efforts.
I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a US Army soldier. That experience made me acutely aware of the complexity of those conflicts. Context is the most difficult thing to grasp. At once, there is both violence, corruption and all of the challenges innate in an insecure and war-weary area of the world, and there is also courage, virtue, selflessness, and evolving opportunities unavailable in previous years. To ignore this context is to miss some truly amazing progress being made by the people who you will never see on the evening news. Consider, for example, that there have never been more girls attending school in the history of Afghanistan. Today, nearly 20 percent of Afghans enrolled in higher education are women. There are 3,000 women-owned businesses and associations in Afghanistan. Women-founded nonprofit organizations are taking care of many of the needs of their communities. Women are serving in leadership roles at all levels of government. These women are courageously and optimistically moving Afghanistan forward toward better days.
TEAM KARADAH CHALLENGE: Make $2,500 become $20,000
Temporary internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, too often, become permanent places of poverty and hopelessness. Imagine, if you will, being driven from your home and all that is familiar to you. You are then corralled into hastily constructed camps; nothing more than mud huts and tents. These structures are then filled with families — fathers, mothers, children, and extended family. An economy of sorts will disrupt some of the monotony of your new existence, but mostly it will be filled with worries about what the future holds for you and your family. Will circumstances allow you to return to your home? Will your home be there when you return? Will your children ever know the normal life you had before; the life that seems increasingly distant with each passing day? These are compelling questions of substance and not exercises in intellectual what ifs.
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.