During my internship, I learned a lot about the local food, language, and the overall culture of Iraqi Kurdistan. I expected to learn all these things while living in a new country, but here are a few things I never expected I would learn during my time there:
1) How to write professionally—I finished my college English courses as a first semester freshmen, not because I was good at English, but because it was my least favorite subject and I wanted to finish it as soon as possible. Since being accepted to the summer internship, I’ve written a lot for PLC and I really enjoyed it, much to my surprise.
I was dubbed the “press intern,” which involves writing press releases for the intern’s home town papers and networking with other larger publications. I saw a lot of rejection, but I also had some successes, which made all my effort worthwhile. All-in-all, I really enjoyed writing about PLC because I think what they do is amazing, so if writing is a great way to tell others about the amazing things going on here in Iraq, I’m all for it!
2) How to use Insta.gram for good—Insta.gram is a mobile application used to share photos. The PLC staff started using it this year to offer you a glimpse of life here in Iraq and to give you a picture of where all your support is going. Across the board, people are more likely to share, like, and comment on photos over links or pure text, and Insta.gram is a great platform to help us get you involved.
When the PLC staff aren’t in their office working to get children heart surgeries, they’re out in the community and spending time with locals. We use the Insta.gram platform to show people what it’s like to live in this culture in hopes of humanizing the people here. I was fortunate to be able to take over this task for the summer, and I even got to help mobilize the other interns and their camera phones so I was not the only person taking photos of our experience in Iraq. To see the photos we grabbed over the summer, click here.
3) How to write HTML—HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is an online language that is used to build web pages. I was expecting to write a little before I came to Iraq, but I was definitely NOT expecting to learn how to build web pages. Within a few weeks of living here I was learning not one but two new languages: Kurdish and HTML. I learned HTML to build landing pages for the Preemptive Love Facebook page in order to engage our Facebook supporters by inviting them to fund children’s medical supplies. It has been fun to learn these two new languages, and I hope to continue to learn and use them in the future! So, using both languages, I’ll bid you a farewell:
<center><span style=”font-family: Helvetica, Arial, Tahoma, Verdana; color:#7F7F7F; font-size: 20px”><b><i> ﺧﻮا حافیز </b></i></span></center>
The summer of 2012 will always be a memorable experience for all of us interns who were fortunate enough to go to Iraq. We learned and sharpened valuable skills, we built long-lasting relationships, and we’ve had experiences that will continue to shape us for the rest of our lives. To read more about our experiences in places like Fallujah, Sulaymaniyah, and Dohuk, click here.
The 2012 interns have arrived, and it has been my honor to introduce you to them. We’re already hard at work furthering PLC’s vision through writing and media.
The above video is a quick glimpse into who we are and our hopes for the summer here in Iraq.
We can’t wait to see what amazing experiences we’ll have this summer working with doctors, children, and families. This is sure to be an enriching time for us, and we hope you’ll follow along as we share photos and stories on PLC’s Facebook page.
I’m in an Iraqi hospital room, surrounded by five conservative, Muslim women, discussing Michael Jackson. Wait–what?
During our last Remedy Mission in southern Iraq I became curious about what these families think when they see me. When they meet a young, white, American girl do they take me for who I am, or do stereotypes and reality TV characters precede me? What kind of reputational baggage have American media, troops or aid workers left in Iraq that I don’t even know I’m up against?
Needing to get to the bottom of this, I grabbed a translator and headed to the hospital ward to ask these mothers, “Who or what represents ‘America’ to you?”
The first few answers were easy– “democracy”, “freedom”, “independence.” But these were not the answers I was looking for. I wanted to hone in on who was the singular “face” of America. So we started asking just that, “Which single person represents the United States to you?”
The most popular answer? Michael Jackson. I couldn’t help laughing out loud. Really? Michael Jackson? I was expecting Lady Gaga, Brad Pitt or perhaps Katy Perry (or President Obama, at the very least). But MJ? And I got this answer from not one but several Iraqi families. Pretty interesting, right?
But the resounding response I also kept hearing was….Dr. Novick! Our very own, world-renowned, rockstar heart surgeon from Memphis is revolutionizing the way Iraqis see Americans.
Many of the women agreed that this ICHF team had completely exceeded their expectations on the kindness of the West. I guess saving their child’s life leaves a stronger impression than “American Idol.”
Dr. Novick–Michael Jackson’s got nothing on you!
Remember Jenga? That crazy game where you pull blocks out of the wooden tower, hoping it doesn’t tumble over? Making plans often feels like a game of Jenga. You build a tower of ideas piece-by-piece, then life pulls at pieces of your plan, and sometimes our tower of plans comes crumbling down…
About a month ago, we received some disappointing news, and the PLC staff had to make a difficult decision. The Remedy Mission we all hoped to experience in our city, was canceled. For many of the interns, this Remedy Mission was the biggest reason we fought so hard to get the PLC internship. From the start of our internship process, we wanted to meet the families and kids who would be on the receiving end of lifesaving surgeries. Some of the intern’s assigned work even revolved around there being a Remedy Mission.
To make a complicated situation simple, the hospital and a local nonprofit partner didn’t prepare enough for the impending surgical mission. The hospital wasn’t as equipped to handle these complex surgeries as it should have been and funding was withheld. Surgical missions always have some risk involved, but PLC won’t dive into a Remedy Mission with unnecessary risks that could cost children their lives.
PLC could have provided more funds to make the surgical mission happen and just hoped the hospital’s current equipment was sufficient, but this is about long term solutions over short term gain. The problem could have been temporarily fixed with a handout, but we would much rather empower local organizations and hospitals to take ownership and responsibility for their community–for saving the lives of their children.
We don’t ram solutions down people’s throats. We’re here to aid local desires and local initiatives. So when local preparations fall or local enthusiasm wanes, we don’t force it. Part of creating long term solutions lies in ensuring that this is something local doctors, government officials and parents of sick babies really want–without our patronage.
Thankfully, PLC was still able to host a Remedy Mission, but it was relocated to a partnering city which was better-prepared, in a place most interns were unable to go.
When the rug is pulled out from under us, we can’t help but feel disappointment. However, we must come to the realization that GOD will reconcile our plans. Even when our Jenga tower crumbles to the floor, GOD is still in control.
Now Remedy VI is finished in southern Iraq, and we can praise GOD for each of the 18 kids who received a successful heart surgery and for zero fatalities!
The internship is now over and–Remedy Mission or not–each of us experienced so many valuable events and lessons. Our plans never really work out quite how we anticipate, but we’ve seen that GOD is trustworthy and will work everything out for the best.
Kurdish men spend a lot of time drinking tea, playing games, and socializing at tea shops. A Kurdish tea shop is completely different from how I imagined a tea shop, since I only had Starbucks and Teavanna to compare it to.
Please allow me to describe my first experience at a legitimate Iraqi tea shop buried in the center of the bazaar.
A returning 2010 intern, Alex, likes to call this tea shop “the catacombs.” So when he proposed the idea of revisiting his favorite place in Sulaymaniyah, another PLC intern and I were excited to visit this mysterious, catacomb-like teashop.
Alex led us through the winding streets of the bustling bazaar, when out of nowhere he dove into the small entrance of “the catacombs.” We walked through the narrow seating area and tea stand and then the room opened up to a huge floor filled with a mess of tables crowded with men.
The sights and sounds of the catacomb tea shop were awesome! The noise of dominoes slamming against tabletops, dice rolling across wooden boards and men’s laughter and conversation filled the room. The walls were lined in dirty, beige brick. These brick walls held pictures of Iraqi politicians and famous figures that seemed to transcend their canvas and stare creepily at you no matter where you moved.
The tea shop is a place where they can invite total strangers or friends to play games and drink cha (the Kurdish word for tea). The workers went around delivering tea, handing out games or repositioning cheap plastic chairs and metal tables to accommodate more Kurds. Every so often the old owner of the shop would come by to sweep up the endless amounts of cigarette butts scattered across the floor.
We found a small spot near the AC, and immediately our white skin and American-ness attracted eyes of friendly patrons eager to practice their English and help us out in our attempts to play backgammon. Anytime I play backgammon, a Kurd either playing or just watching, would move my pieces for me if I wasn’t quick enough to move them myself.
That day I spent over three hours in the tea shop losing almost every game I played, drinking tea and laughing with new friends. In Iraq, it’s normal to sit down and help strangers or foreigners with anything, even something as simple or insignificant as a board game.
And this friendliness isn’t just occasional. It’s a quality they practice daily. The Iraqi people really understand the value and importance of relationships. The culture here is saturated with qualities of hospitality and friendliness to strangers and friends, and I’ve recognized this level of love and friendliness as something I hope to adapt in my own life.
June 7, 2011 by Ted · Comments Off
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In preparing for my 2nd internship with PLC this summer I came across an article written by two well-known global health advocates and physicians (a prof at Harvard and the current president of Dartmouth, if you’re into credentials) on the topic of surgery in the global health movement. [Paul E. Farmer and Jim Y. Kim. 2008. "Surgery and Global Health: a View from Beyond the OR." World Journal of Surgery 32:533-536].
After discussing this article with one of the directors at PLC and thinking about our current model for surgical aid in Iraq, a few points stood out:
The authors’ first argument is that surgery is the “neglected stepchild of global healthcare.” The fact is, although surgical diseases (CHD being one of the most prevalent) are a major cause of death and disability in much of the world, the vast majority of healthcare programs don’t address surgical needs.
Why? Because surgical interventions are usually complicated and require a larger investment than other kinds of health interventions, and treating surgical diseases requires a more advanced infrastructure and the involvement of more professionals than treating, for instance, malnutrition or malaria.
There is also the fact that surgical diseases have lacked the same kind of advocacy and exposure that have led to funding and programs for “high-profile” diseases like tuberculosis or AIDS.
The other major issue addressed by Farmer and Kim is that countries that actually have the surgical services often only have them in just a few locales, and the treatment is usually too expensive to be accessible by most of the population.
The question then arises: how do we make this treatment available in settings where infrastructure is poor, trained professionals are scarce, equipment is needed, and “the only thing not needed is disease, which exists abundantly.”
Remedy Missions are our answer to that question.
As you know, we recently moved from sending children abroad for surgery to a model that provides more surgeries at less cost while simultaneously training local professionals.
These Remedy Missions specifically address the impediments to surgery in global health described by Farmer and Kim.
They provide treatment of CHD for families that would never be able to afford traveling abroad for surgery. Our work also means we’re freeing surgeons up to focus on surgery, because, as Farmer and Kim write, “clearly we don’t want surgeons to be dragged out of the operating room to manage logistics, supply chains…and financing.”
This process of providing surgery and training is also an exercise in infrastructure building as we work toward the development of heart centers in northern and southern Iraq. The fact that we can count both regional and national governments as partners addresses the need for surgical care in the public sector in Iraq, and it bodes especially well for poor families who will need to receive treatment in the future.
Lastly, the partnership and advocacy of our supporters (that’s YOU) is helping to raise awareness of the burden of CHD and other surgical diseases in places like Iraq.
With well-planned, structured interventions that take into account the needs and problems associated with surgical disease globally, and the support and advocacy of a Coalition of concerned individuals and communities (that’d be you again), problems like CHD can cease to be a “neglected stepchild” of global health and instead serve as a model for building health systems and effecting powerful change in global contexts.
January 26, 2011 by matt · Comments Off
It’s that time again.
For the past 3 summers we’ve hosted a handful of talented, socially-conscious men and women to assist us in eradicating the backlog. This year we’re excited to have several of our 2010 interns returning for a second summer, but there are still a few spots left.
So instead of spending your summer sleeping in and replaying Donkey Kong 64, why not go here and fill out an application?
We’re looking for passionate people who want to hone their skills for the betterment of the people of Iraq and to have their own life enriched by the experience.
The application deadline is February 1st, and you can send any questions to our veteran interns, Lyda and Alex, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go check it out!
June 30, 2010 by Preston · Comments Off
As a doctor, decisions that affect a person’s quality of life come with the job, and this is no different for our local cardiologist, Dr. Aso Faeq. While shadowing Dr. Aso in his office earlier this week, I witnessed how the problems in Iraq make these decisions even more difficult.
As I saw patient after patient visit Dr. Aso’s office last Wednesday, the fact that congenital heart disease is a rampant problem here in northern Iraq became blatantly obvious. Families drove for hours just to see this one cardiologist examine their child, and so many of them were told about the urgency of their child’s heart condition.
Though so many cases are urgent, Dr. Aso is restricted from the limited options he has available to him in Iraq. The lack of training and technology for doctors along with poverty and cultural dilemmas prevent many children from receiving surgery in the country. It’s hardships like these that affect Dr. Aso’s decision making every day.
One of his decisions that resonated with me concerned the fate of a three-month-old boy. His parents brought him to the office knowing he had a heart problem, but they needed Dr. Aso to examine and diagnose him. After a few seconds of doing the echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart), Dr. Aso’s whole demeanor changed instantly.
He explained to us that two of the little boy’s heart chambers were malformed and merged into a single chamber causing immense pressure to build in his heart. As the family and Dr. Aso discussed their options, the limitations became obvious. The surgery the child needs could be done in a town six hours away, but the family did not have the money to do this. On top of this, the next group of American non-profit surgeons who will perform local surgeries here does not arrive for another fifty days, which could be too late for the dying boy.
For a solid 10 minutes Dr. Aso did not say a word. He sat there, weighing the child’s options and deciding his fate. Imagine the immensity of this decision. Dr. Aso has basically been backed into a corner and told to make a decision on this child’s life. And so, he did. Waiting is the only option. He spoke to the parents, comforted them, signed the papers, and watched as the next patient walked in.
Dr. Aso often finds himself faced with difficult decisions, but with the options available to him he takes the initiative to make the best call for these children. These families are, in fact, some of the strongest people I have ever witnessed. They face impending tragedy while dealing with poverty and neglect. Sitting in Dr. Aso’s office, however, allowed me to see that real initiative can cause real change in the face of immense hardship.
People like Dr. Aso take this initiative as far as they can, and PLC hopes to offer opportunities for this initiative to be extended across the world. Whether it be through buying Klash from our Buy Shoes. Save Lives. program, supporting local healthcare through Remedy Mission, or creatively partnering with PLC to find new ways of providing these heart surgeries, you can also take the initiative to make a difference in childrens’ lives.
June 27, 2010 by Sophia · Comments Off
It is often difficult to measure the level of success of our work here in Iraq. Working with kids and families, donors and budgets is all sometimes daunting.
On a recent visit to see 9 year-old Nivar, I was reminded of how precious life of an Iraqi child with a heart disease is. With little energy to play outside and unable to run around with her younger brothers, Nivar spends her days watching TV and lying down in her family’s home. Her condition is significant and according to her father, she often feels tired and bored now that school is out for the summer.
Nivar is one of the sweetest girls I have had the privilege of meeting here in Iraq. Big green eyes and a smile that captures your heart, she is the epitome of why we here at PLC work to send children to surgery.
We work to see kids outside playing once again. We work to stop sick days and sad childhoods. We work to see smiles and healthy pink cheeks instead of blue ones that show a lack of oxygen.
We work because we love, and we hope that love can be shared with everyone who donates to a child.
I can’t help but think that if we can help save at least one little girl like Nivar, our job will be a success.