Program provides aid to Iraq war refugees

May 30, 2010

Video produced by Cabrini College. Executive Producer and Editor Diana Trasatti. Associate Producer Elizabeth Garrett.

by Liz Garrett and Diana Trasatti

The brutal and vicious realities of war are an everyday occurrence for the people of Iraq.

Violent outbreaks have caused persistent and abundant visual images of injury, death, kidnapping and torture to the citizens of the country.

Physical effects of the war are damaging and apparent; but the impact of the emotional and psychological damages that the war in Iraq is causing has gone unaided, until now.

A new program has recently been developed by Catholic Relief Services to provide psychological treatment for the Iraqi refugees who have experienced these traumatic events first hand.

“There were cases of persons, someone from their family was assassinated in front of their eyes. We have many children also who were kidnapped or in front of them they saw severe scenes of torture,” Isaaze Saade, employee of Caritas Lebanon, said.

Six-year-old Omar was kidnapped in Iraq. He was captured because, even though he is a Christian, his name is Muslim. With the religious wars raging, Omar was imprisoned with numerous other children of the same name.

“He has been refusing, until now his parents call him by his name, so he changed his name. He hates his name,” Saade said.

Cases like Omar’s are not uncommon and the Iraqi Refugee Trauma Relief Program provides counseling, medical attention, education and psychological follow-up to the citizens of Iraq who have been a victim of torture, imprisonment, kidnapping or a witness to any of these events.

While addressing these issues are imperative to the psychological well being of refugees, they do not always actively seek the help that they need.

“If we remove the idea of a diagnosis from the idea of trauma and just really help people to understand that trauma unfortunately is an effect of the many unfortunate consequences of war. It’s not just about removing the stigma but trying to give people a reason to understand that what they have is not something of a deficit but a consequence of circumstances under which they have no control,” Arlene Flaherty, CRS representative, said.

Flaherty was instrumental in initiating the program. Even though there was some hesitation from Iraqis to go through with the program, since its start this year it has gained acceptance and the number of clients has grown so significantly that there was a need to hire an additional psychologist.

The trauma programs are organized into groups that relate to the experience of each Iraqi. Victims of rape, torture, kidnapping and imprisonment all have a forum where they can gather to share their story, listen to others and move past their painful encounters.

The Iraqi culture places great importance on community, so CRS uses this as a tool for the program and provides training for Iraqis who wish to assist as counselors in the program.

“There’s a real big strength, which is the strength of their family and the strength of their tribe, their group, their town. So it’s really helpful to work with the families together, to help each family to be able to understand how to support family members and to help each community of Iraqis to understand trauma, so those communities can actually help support people who are in fact, traumatized,” Flaherty said.

Iraqis who are fleeing from the turbulent state of war, often seek safety in other countries, but their struggles do not end there.

Refugees in Lebanon cannot legally hold jobs and have difficulty keeping up with living expenses. Any refugee who is found working, runs the risk of becoming imprisoned. This can bestow a helpless feeling upon the refugees, especially men, and may cause them to enter a state of depression.

Refugees entering the United States do not have it much easier. Even if one gets passed the tough immigration laws and obtains a job, there is still difficulty adjusting to American society and breaking through prejudiced mindsets of others.

“I think Iraqis who are accepted for resettlement in the States are facing a lot of difficulties of integration and are really suffering a lot, so for us it is very important for the American people to understand that this person came from a different culture and to welcome them in a better way,” Saade said.

Even though the Trauma Relief program has been providing aid and treatment, war is still lingering in Iraq and atrocities are being committed each day.

Leaders of the program believe that a deeper understanding is needed between countries to end the catastrophic events that are essentially causing the trauma.

“In the long run we are people, and even though we may be on different sides of the conflict we share a common humanity that suffers and is vulnerable to the violence of war. We need to be able to support Iraqi refugees who are trying to get home and who are also traumatized. You know to that extent that we begin to heal these wounds of war in each other so that we will really be able to achieve the outcome that we want, which is deep peace-building between the people of Iraq and the people of the United States,” Flaherty said.

Refugees International

July 18, 2009

Refugees International advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises.

An Iraqi student living in the United States – How I Wrote the Story

August 19, 2008

Christine Graf writes:

Reporting on social justice issues makes the process of interviewing and writing a story even more important. Especially for college students who can use social justice issues to link their college, no matter how big or small, to the world. The value this holds is that we are the future generation of reporters and the world can not change unless the general public is aware of its struggles from Africa to the Middle East and back to the United States – there are many hardships that need addressing – here is how I did it.

The first step is educating yourself about the world and what exactly is happening in even the smallest of places. I did this by taking a course offered at my college entitled Working for Global Solidarity. In that class I listened to a speaker from Catholic Relief Services who had just visited Iraqis who have been displace in other countries due to the effects of war and violence.

Honestly, I never thought about how the innocent Iraqi civilians were affected by the war. Interested in learning more – a project my group was assigned was on refugees and peace-building. We decided we would investigate the refugee crisis in Iraq and highlight what war was doing to Iraqi people who in reality were not that much different then us and our families.

My professor told me about an Iraqi student at another college nearby who was speaking about her experience living in Baghdad during the war. I contacted her via e-mail and she was more than willing to speak with me one-on-one.

We met a few times and did a couple informal interviews of which I always recorded with my tape recorded because really the best quotes and stories come out when you are just having a casual conversation with someone person to person – stories and deadlines aside.

There was so much information I had gotten from the three interviews I did with this student that my biggest challenge was sorting through it all and choosing which experiences I wanted to share in my article. The Iraqi student had witnessed so much violence and felt so much fear in her 20 years of life. I wanted to do the story justice and really show people the effects this war had on students not difference than us.

Honestly – I wanted to use it all. My story could have been six pages but that was not an option so I thought very carefully about what I really wanted people to know most. I wanted readers to feel what it was like to live in Baghdad during this war and how it has ruined the lives of its civilians who have done nothing wrong.

Sorting through pages of notes and quotes – it was almost like a puzzle putting it all together. It is important to write your article in a story telling way – so that people can not only learn about these issues but almost feel the hardship of the people affected by the issue. A personal angle is always best if it is available.

If you are interested in doing some sort of social justice story – but have trouble finding an angle see if you can highlight a student or organization within your school that have done social justice work. Even a class that focuses on international development or social justice could give you some sort of starting point.

Overall, reporting on social justice issues is very rewarding. You are the voice of the people who have none. You are not only learning about things that might not ever cross your mind otherwise – but you are sharing the information with others to support change. Not everything is fair in life – but everyone deserves a chance at it and not everyone gets that chance. It is up to us as journalist to inform people that these issues are going on and that together we can make a difference.

How I made the video on Iraqi refugees

July 9, 2008

Brittany Mitchell writes:

Video on the Iraqi Refugee Crisis.

Before I get into the technicalities, this project was the best thing that ever happened to me. When the project started rolling I thought to myself, “Oh, this is great, I love current events!” Little did I know that this project would change my life. I started getting to know people in foreign countries and realized that they’re just like me. I can’t even stress how important it is to be aware of the world around you.

I promise you, by creating a documentary you will learn more than any book can teach you. You will discover compassion and countless abilities you never knew you had.
So I highly suggest creating a multimedia piece on an important topic. It’ll strengthen your skills, knowledge and your heart as well.

Now for some details about how we worked on it. You won’t ever fully appreciate a film until to see what goes into producing one. The Iraqi Refugee documentary may be only 10 minutes long but over a hundred hours went into creating and recreating the project. There were times when I started working at noon but didn’t stop until five in the morning, there were times I cried and I’ll shamefully admit that there were even times that my lack of sleep caused huge mood swings that my boyfriend thankfully tolerated.

The first thing to remember before you begin a project is to schedule your time properly. Sit down with your group; put all planners on the table and set your first three meetings; make each one at least three hours long. While you’re scheduling your dates also find out each person’s strengths. Once you finish, end the meeting and treat yourself to a night out because all you’ll want to do later is finish the project that is practically engraved into your mind.

Ok, so the next meeting is crucial. Christine and I didn’t get a solid topic until three weeks after the project was assigned. So make it a point not to leave until you all agree on a topic, not a broad topic either. Pick a subtopic. I can’t even count the number of emails I received that asked for topic clarification. Don’t be like me and assume that the people you’re contacting will know exactly what you’re talking about.

A brief description of what your group plans to cover should be at least a paragraph long so that you have a basic outline for all your emails.

The professionalism of your emails is a huge determination on who will help you. Credentials are a must! If your school doesn’t have an award winning paper make sure you have some kind of creditability. Most people won’t give you the time of day if you just describe yourself as a college student doing a documentary for class.

Also remember that your contacts shouldn’t just be through emails. Talk to everyone about your project. You’ll never know who’ll be able to help and the more you talk about your topic the more you’ll know about it.

I know it’s definitely easier said than done but just keep in mind you shouldn’t finish your documentary in a week or two if it’s an important topic. It takes time to conduct interviews and you shouldn’t jump to do anything.

My suggestion is to spend the most time on your outline. I can’t even begin to tell you how much time I would’ve saved if we just asked the questions in the order of an outline. It’s definitely better to have your guests answer the same question in different words rather than just having each person answer different questions. You can never have too many people answer the same question.

I had to completely discard a phone interview with a person in Washington D.C. due to horrible audio and if it weren’t for my other sources answering the question, I never would’ve been able to cover my whole outline.

When editing, always have your outline in front of you. Whether it’s a timeline or a storyboard, you need a visual. Don’t let your brain hold all your ideas, that’s what a computer’s for.

Organize the information the most you can. I had all my audio in one folder and the video in another. Then I made subfolders on each topic I wanted to cover. Once the media was cut I just dropped it into each category. Then it all disappeared.  Yes, you read right, it ALL disappeared. That’s all it took was a little tap to the table and my external hard drive was gone. So DEFINITELY back up all your work. You never know when someone’s foot will accidentally pull the USB cord.

I know it may seem some points are overly stressed but please take the advice. It will save you a lot of time.

Oh, and just so you know. The first few processes will most likely be repeated many times. Don’t worry though, it’s completely normal!

Reporting about the Iraqi refugee crisis

July 8, 2008

The story about the Iraqi refugee crisis is a breaking story that is greatly under-reported in the commercial media. It is a major story you can do and bring attention to a major issue. [Read more]

How I interviewed Iraqi students

July 7, 2008

Christine Graf tells about how she did interviews with two Iraqi students, other Iraqi refugee stories she’s done, and what her feelings are about her reporting on this issue.

Here’s what Christine had to say:

In her shoes: from Iraq to America

Living as a college student in Baghdad during the war

Christine Graf

“I am an Iraqi citizen and I had to leave my country because of the war,” an Iraqi college student studying in America said.

The war in Iraq started in 2003 when she was a 15-year-old high school student in Baghdad. (Loquitur is withholding her name because she has family still in Iraq.)

“We were just kids. We went to school and hung out with our friends afterwards. Life was carefree before the war, just like kids here in America.”

When it became clear that this war with America was going to begin, she described how people started to leave Baghdad because it was a main target. That is when she realized what the war was already beginning to create.

Read more: