We came to Charlottesville, Virginia to interview a courageous woman and her family. They responded to a call for Iraqi refugees who were willing to tell their story. All they asked was that their real names be protected, and we agreed.
"Leila" and her family experienced direct violence in Iraq. Now, four family members are living together in Charlottesville. We spoke with Leila, her mother and a brother. Her young daughter was still at day care when we visited the family home.
They spoke candidly about their personal journeys and about the wider history of Iraq. They didn't want to talk politics, but they ended up breaking down a lot of modern events...it was only natural, since political developments impacted their lives in real ways. It was difficult to live in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and it is even more difficult now. Neighborhoods have been segmented across sectarian lines and violence is commonplace. Stability has been lost, basic services are not available and sometimes the lack of electricity is a big problem.
For example, when you're pregnant, there's no electricity for the a/c, and its 100 degrees in your concrete house. So what are you going to do? Go out to your front porch. Leila did that, and a car bomb went off just outside her front yard. She was showered with little pieces of the car and decided that she'd had enough...this was no place to raise her daughter.
When Leila's daugter is old enough she will enroll in her first school and have her first day, with the lunch box and all that good stuff, and she will be able to do so because her mom brought her here. Lots of people were involved, including the UN and the IRC, but ultimately, its a familial and motherly love that fueled Leila and her family to perservere and make it to their new homeland to build a better future for their kin.
In Iraq, informants and rumors can have terrible consequences, so it took plenty of guts for Leila and her family to tell us their stories so frankly. We appreciate their willingness to speak and their desire to be heard.
The people who bring refugees to this country should also be credited. We interviewed three impressive officials from the International Rescus Committee:
Bob Carey, Vice President for Resettlement Policy
Michael Kocher, Vice President, International Programs
...a special thank you to Susan Donovan, director of the IRC in Charlottesville who helped us so much. She and her staff are truly dedicated to improving the lives of refugees and helping them get their lives up and running.
The International Rescue Committee is a leading International aide organization with three main purposes: responding to crises, resettling refugees and advocating for change. Visit their website for information about the Iraqi refugee crisis and other world developments. You can also learn how to take political action and you can see a long list of volunteer opportunities at IRC's local offices.*
Their website is www.theIRC.org
The UN High Commission for Refugees is the key organization identifying refugees.
Click Here to see additional pictures from our trip to Charlottesville.
Bob Edwards Weekend presents an original radio documentary: Iraqi Refugees in America.
- Dan Bloom
*Many high school students have a public service requirement to graduate, and volunteering with refugees sounds like a pretty good college essay...