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U.S., foreign charities help Iraqi refugees

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by Rima Thompson
Assistant Editor

In the wake of the war in Iraq, many Iraqis, though liberated, are without life’s basic necessities.

In a humanitarian effort, several charitable organizations in the United States and across the world are offering help through relief programs.

Among them is Mercy Corps, which donates roughly $140 million a year to various countries in need and has established a new office in south central Iraq to assist Iraqis with food, water, shelter and medicine.

“We are currently assisting about 300,000 people in Iraq,” said Mercy Corps spokeswoman Margaret Larson.

Americans who want to help may donate $33, $83 or $144. The money will go directly to water and hygiene kits as well as medicine and food, Larson said.

But she warned: “It’s too costly to send goods, so send cash. The agency will buy the needed items in Iraq and distribute them wisely.”

Melissa Winkler, spokeswoman for the International Rescue Committee, said that many charitable Americans have approached IRC with ideas of sending books, clothes and kits for children in Iraq. But she too said cash donations are preferable.

“No planes are flying into Iraq, so things have to be shipped to a nearby country and transported by land.”

IRC also urges Americans, who want to do their part, to do so by lobbying for humanitarian assistance.

“The monies that went to the military are enormous compared to monies for humanitarian aid,” Winkler said. “(Americans) need to contact members of Congress to make them give a larger financial commitment for humanitarian spending, They have to ask for United Nations coordination to assist the people of Iraq.”

Katherine Poma, senior director of Direct Relief, said her organization does not have a staff stationed in Iraq, but that they work with three-to-four agencies that set up office networks and relief projects in there.

“These agencies are currently positioned in Kuwait and Jordan,” Poma said. “As the military allows, they travel to Iraq and evaluate their (medical) needs. The agencies then report back to Direct Relief by giving them a needs assessment list.”

Direct Relief is a private nonprofit humanitarian medical organization that distributes medical and surgical supplies as well as refurbished medical equipment.

While the agency receives annual government funding for ocean freight shipping, the funds usually run out in six months.

It also depends on donations, particularly at this crucial time.

“Americans should only donate to (agencies) that will handle their money responsibly. Watch to make sure that a higher percentage of the monies are going for aid and not to administration,” Poma said.

Another agency, Doctors Without Borders, has also been working in and around Iraq since before the war started.

It has both a medical and surgical team in Baghdad, said the organization’s spokesman, Kris Togeson.

Right now the organization is occupied with assessing Iraq’s vast medical needs.

Doctors Without Borders provides drugs, supplies and medical care to hospitals, Togeson said, adding that the organization accepts donations from $35 to $5500.

Americans who prefer children-centered charities may want to consider Save the Children, who also has a strong presence in Iraq, said the organization’s spokeswoman, Colleen Barton.

Also coming to the aid of the children of Iraq is the Lutheran World Relief Charity.

The organization has recently sent nearly a half-million school kits and 22,000 quilts, not to mention food, blankets and first aid kits to 52 parishes and community health centers.

Lutheran World Relief is currently running a campaign called “All Our Children of Iraq” to raise funds for the supply and shipment of medical needs.

Three shipments have been sent thus far.

“Lutheran World Relief is doing a lot of hands-on humanitarian things right now. They are a neutral agency who help solely on the basis of need in the country,” said the organization’s spokeswoman, Vicky Wetstone.

She added that the organization is drilling wells, and supplying water tanks to 150 churches, mosques and schools.

Additionally, LWR is training workers to help in Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Like the others, it also accepts cash donations.

Some Americans, Larson said, are hesitant to donate money and understandably so, which is why she recommends they do thorough research and choose charities they feel comfortable with.

“Americans have individual consciences and should help those in need if they choose to do so,” Larson said.

She added that there are other ways to help besides donating money.

“Keep up on the issues at hand, learn about the impact on civilians and write Congressional leaders to ensure protection for women and children,” she said.

For more information on the charities, or to make donations online visit their Web sites:

·Save the children: www.savethechildren.org

·Mercy Corps: www.mercycorps.org

·Lutheran World Relief: www.lwr.org

·International Rescue Committee: www.theirc.org

·Direct Relief: www.directrelief.org

·Doctors Without Borders: www.doctorswithoutborders.org

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