Local staff supervisor Muntajeb Ibrahim gives a demonstration at the opening of a new computer workshop
A lesson at the new sewing machine workshop at Al Amarah Girls’ Secondary School
Excited girls from the secondary school at the opening of the sewing workshop
One of the returnees
Iraqi children receive pencils and pens donated by a Salvation Army centre in the UK
Girls from the Al Amarah Secondary School show their delight at now having a computer to use
Building a traditional reed house
Returnee boys outside their new home
One of the returnees
Photos by Major Seth Le Leu
Iraq: One Day at a Time
by Major Molly Shotzberger
Molly (right) with some of the returnees
When Major Molly Shotzberger switched life in New York City for a time in the new Iraq, she had no idea what an impact the experience would have on her. Her diary entries were emailed home and became the means by which anyone could have a taste of what life was really like for the people of Iraq. There is still much to be done, but these excerpts from Molly’s diary show how The Salvation Army is improving the lives of many Iraqis – one day at a time.
Sunday 19 October 2003
I arrived in Iraq on Thursday and met the rest of the team and those who would work with us. It did seem strange during the introductions that along with interpreters we were also introduced to our guards.
Friday is an Iraqi holy day so we spent most of the day in the house. In the evening our local staff supervisor, Muntajeb Ibrahim, invited us to his house for a party to celebrate his daughter’s first birthday. We had a great time of feast and celebration. Everyone in the family treated us very warmly. Muntajeb’s wife even showed me how to tie my headscarf, which must be worn anytime I leave the house.
On Saturday we had an opportunity to tour the Arab Marshlands, which are dry now since Saddam drained the land. We toured a clinic The Salvation Army has been asked to help refurbish. The heavily damaged building has broken windows and buckled floors. The pharmacy consisted of a metal shelf with very sparse medications. Two nurses are on duty and the doctor comes once a week. According to our standards the conditions are deplorable but, by their way of life, the conditions are acceptable. We will try to make them better.
As a contrast, we also visited a clinic that the Army had refurbished – what a difference! The clinic was clean, there was a proper place for medications, windows were replaced and there was a general appearance of order.
Across from the clinic, an Iraqi woman was preparing the bread for the day. An oven made out of mud was used to bake the bread. Nearby was her home – a mud hut. We were offered bread – generously given and gratefully received.
Saturday afternoon we visited a school the Army helped to refurbish. We were warmly received by teachers and students. We visited the sewing classroom where teachers and students are making clothes for the poorer children to wear during Ramadan. They presented us with many outfits to distribute.
The Army has provided the sewing materials as well as the two sewing machines. The women who sew are now allowed to sell some of the clothes in the market. Some of the money goes to make more clothes for the poor and some they can keep as income for themselves. The women are very grateful to the Army for this business opportunity.
We also visited a computer classroom with one computer for 20 students. The Army trained the teacher and now she trains the students, who are eager to learn.
Today we went to the nearby military base – now occupied by British troops. In the simplicity of a small cement room with a simple handmade cross in the centre I felt the presence of God in a powerful way. I felt surrounded by the prayers of those who have promised to pray for me and the team.
The Army is now involved in a clean up project here in Al Amarah. The streets are littered with trash and we have employed local men to do the cleaning – we are also paying for the heavy equipment to help do the work. We are also involved in cleaning the sewer lines – again hiring the local people to do the work.
In my short time here, I have learned that the people of the community have high regard for the Army. They know we are here to help them help themselves – we are giving them ownership in the projects. It is a great honour for me to be part of the rebuilding of Iraq.
Monday 20 October
Another hot day here in Al Amarah.
A funny thing happened yesterday – I was sitting in the living room and I thought I heard a sheep ‘baa’ – they are all over the place so I thought one had gotten loose from a flock and wandered over near the house. Soon Muntajeb came in and said to go outside to see. There, tied up by the gate, was a large sheep (we named her Sally Lamb) – a gift from the council leader. When we were there last week we could not stay for lunch because of other commitments so they had brought lunch to us – Sally Lamb. I learn something new every day about the customs here. One of these days I am sure Sally Lamb will turn up on our table.
Tuesday 21 October
Sally Lamb ended up on our dinner table tonight – we had barbecued ribs. Poor Sally – I was hugging her one day and eating her two days later.
Thursday 23 October
I went out this morning to visit with the ‘returnees’ – Iraqis who left during the war who are now returning. The Army has committed money for them to build huts. The purpose of my visit was to see what else they are in need of. There are four families living in one tiny makeshift hut (they have not yet built their permanent huts). I counted 19 people – adults and children. They have the clothes on their backs, one small kettle and one small pan for water.
As we were talking, I watched as chickens ran through the water that later the family would drink. My heart went out to them as I saw the conditions they were living in – later my interpreter said my eyes were sad.
A real treat for us today – a satellite dish on the roof. We were able to get BBC news.
We watched the reports of the conference in Madrid – the Donors Conference. We were appalled that one man reported that children in Iraq were afraid to come out of their houses for fear of being kidnapped – we visited two schools this morning that were full of students. He also said that, because of the lack of security, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) couldn’t do their jobs. Someone from the news should come to Al Amarah and see what the Army is doing.
Friday 24 October
The Chief of the Emergency Police of Al Amarah was assassinated as he came out of the mosque from prayers today. Tonight the streets were crowded with angry Iraqis – we knew they were not angry at us but we weren’t sure what they might do in the heat of the moment. God protected us and I am sure it was because of all the prayers sent on our behalf every day. Our
neighbours called to check on us, many offering protection in their homes. They pleaded with us not to leave, saying that The Salvation Army is needed in Iraq. If we left we could never come back – the Iraqis would lose trust in us. I thank God for his protection and for his wisdom and guidance in decision-making.
Saturday 25 October
We visited a ‘new road’ project. The land between some of the homes in Al Kahla is rugged with many deep holes. In order to walk between the homes, a new road had to be built. How proud they were as they showed us the unfinished road and then the new road. The Salvation Army and local councils acting with the military are working together to rebuild the community.
I have just returned from visiting an orphanage where the children cannot speak or hear – we went to give them new shoes. I wish you could have seen their faces as they took off the battered and worn shoes they were wearing and put on a new pair.
We also saw some of the workers in the clean-up project. Some of them are very young but they are so proud to have a part in the project. They are paid very little according to our standards but are happy just to have an income.
Tuesday 28 October
We were all saddened at the news of the bombing at the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad – our prayers go out to the people there. It’s another reminder of how vulnerable the NGOs really are.
I learned a wonderful lesson about tithing today. Remember the sewing classes? The teachers are paid US$70.00 a month. Out of this money they each gave 10 per cent to buy new trousers for students at the boys’ technical school. This morning, three of our team travelled to the school to give them to the neediest students. These women who have so little give so freely. What a lesson for us.
This afternoon most of the team went to Al Kalha to meet with the council about the huts for the returnees. I met with the women to see what their immediate needs are. My heart ached as they asked for warm clothes, blankets and shoes for the children – their children are their first priority.
The conditions are horrible but until we got involved with the council no one had taken an interest in them. I have seen first-hand what poverty looks and feels like.
Wednesday 29 October
Went to visit the head woman in charge of Labour and Social Affairs here in Al Amarah regarding a new project. There is a great need for a drop-in facility for disabled children so we have agreed to take on this project.
The weather is getting better – not quite as hot and they keep telling us the rains will come soon.
Sunday 2 November
I have just returned from church. I had a very special moment on the way. The military base, where we go to chapel, is Saddam’s old military base. As we travelled through the base to the security gate, I saw all the buildings that had been bombed – destruction everywhere – and I heard God whispering, ‘In the midst of the rubble, I am here – there is hope.’ Who could have imagined that such a place would one day include a place of worship? God is so much greater than any evil. Hallelujah!
On Sunday mornings to come, when I am worshipping at my home corps in Spring Valley, New York, my mind will wander back to that small cement room in Iraq with a simple wooden cross. There in the middle of a destroyed military base, worshipping under the ministry of a British Army chaplain, I was reminded how God ministers to all his children.
I visited the returnees again yesterday. The huts are just beginning to be built – seven are in progress now. I watched as a woman sat on the ground with the reeds, tying them together to make them strong for the roof. I sat beside her and as I handed her the reeds I asked, in made-up sign language, if she would teach me. We had a wonderful time laughing and talking, though I had no idea what she was saying.
Last night we said farewell to the team leader who was here when I first came. As the guards gathered in the living room to say their farewells – through an interpreter – it was quite moving to see these tough, grown men in tears.
As Muntajeb spoke, he talked about when the Army first came to Iraq. He paid tribute to ‘Mr Mike Young’ (Mike is a major in The Salvation Army), referred to Mike as his brother and said how hard Mike had worked to get the Army established.
Muntajeb said that, because of The Salvation Army, Iraq is a better place. He said he had opportunities to work for other agencies but he chose the Army because, in his opinion, we are different – we are honest and we really care about the people.
Tuesday 4 November
I have just returned from visiting one of the two hospitals here in Al Amarah. We went to deliver blankets and pouches for the newborns – made by the sewing classes in the schools.
The hospital we visited specialises in complicated births. As I held a three-hour-old baby boy in my arms I couldn’t help but wonder what the future in Iraq held for him. Silently I uttered a prayer for him – and then for each baby we saw.
Wednesday 12 November
The rains have arrived – we awoke a couple nights ago to what sounded like a stampede of cattle running through the heavens. It was the thunder that was announcing the beginning of the rain. Soon the rain pounded on the windows as the winds blew fiercely. I was glad to be inside safe and dry.
Monday 17 November
My plans to return to the United States are now set. My bags are almost packed and in the morning I will be leaving Iraq.
I had originally expected to extend my deployment for two more weeks but I have received news that my 92-year-old uncle (who has been a surrogate father to me) has recently been found to have cancer. It is with mixed emotions that I have now decided to end this unique ministry opportunity. While I will miss all the wonderful people of Iraq that I have been involved with during my service here, I cannot take the chance that I will miss seeing my uncle before his surgery.
What a joy it has been to be here in Iraq during the celebration of Ramadan – to see the people as they fast and pray has taught me a new depth of holiness. A picture etched in my memory is of one our guards solemnly kneeling on his prayer mat in the kitchen – unaware of others around him – genuinely and deeply praying. In my heart I knelt beside him.
I am disappointed that I will not be here for the celebration of Id (Id-ul-Fitr) – the breaking of the fast at the end of the month. There will be special prayers, activities and feasting.
One of the most important aspects of Ramadan is that during the celebration of Id all past grievances are forgiven – what a lesson for all of us.
In preparation for Id, The Salvation Army has taken on the renovation of a couple of the playgrounds that have been damaged and neglected. Many of the families will now have a safe place to go for family celebrations. Children will wear new clothing as part of the celebration. Many of the new clothes will have been donated by the sewing classes The Salvation Army has funded.
One of my responsibilities for Ramadan was to distribute new clothes (made by the sewing classes) to the children of the guards at the schools. These families live in one tiny room at the school. As I gave the children their new clothes the parents often had tears in their eyes.
While inquiring about the ages of the children of one the guard’s families, I was told there was a daughter in the house but that I should come and see her because something was wrong with her.
As I entered the dark room I saw her crouched in a corner on the floor, shaking. I spoke softly to her but she didn’t respond. I went back to the car and chose a bright red velvet dress. When I gave it to her she got up, threw her arms around me and kept repeating ‘shukran’ (thank you). I hugged her for a long time – she hugged me back. When you see a bright red dress think of her and pray for her.
Friday 28 November
I began these final thoughts in Iraq but today I am finishing them in my own home here in the USA. It is good to be home but I will never forget my experiences in Iraq and the wonderful Iraqi people who took me into their hearts and taught me a simple way of life.
If I were to try to sum up my experiences I would declare without hesitation that I know God has called The Salvation Army to minister in Iraq.