Iraqi students spend holidays helping the displaced
24 July 2006

Anbar, Iraq: Hosts of college students from the west Anbar are spending their summer holidays doing volunteer work in hospitals, clinics and camps for displaced persons.

“We can’t just sit back and watch conditions deteriorate without offering some help, especially given the current lack of professionals,” says Othman Bakr, a 24-year-old student of medicine from Ramadi.

The Ministry of Displacement and Migration reported last month that more than 150,000 Iraqis had been displaced countrywide due to sectarian violence. Many NGOs devoted to the relief effort, meanwhile, have complained about a serious lack of supplies and assistance.

Like Bakr, dozens of students have offered their time and experience to help their compatriots, many of whom are in dire need of food, shelter and medical assistance. “I’m assisting at a camp near Ramadi, where most displacements are a result of sectarian violence,” says Mariam Dera’a, who is studying to be a secondary school teacher. “I help them by preparing fresh food and providing the children with some extra education.”

Local relief NGOs express appreciation for the help. “Ten students from different colleges are helping us,” says Fatah Ahmed, spokesman for the Baghdad-based Iraq Aid Association. “They’re going to be doctors, dentists, pharmacists and engineers, and they will definitely garner much experience here.”

Some students have collected food donations from Baghdad and brought them back to displaced families and hospitals in Anbar. “We filled our cars with rice, beans and cooking oil and divided it all between several local families,” says Ayman Razak, a student of engineering from the city of Fallujah. “People were often surprised to see students collecting food to help the displaced.”

For many of the displaced, the experience has proven to be a tremendous morale booster. “When the students come to help us, we feel like we’re respected again,” says Um Omar, a mother of four who fled her home in Ramadi in the wake of sectarian violence. “God bless these young people with good hearts – they are difficult to find in today’s Iraq.”

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