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.
June 19, 2012 by Jeremy · Comments Off
The only bad failure
is the one from which we fail to learn.
Most organizations put a premium on celebrating successes at the end of every year—we certainly do!
But we also believe that we have a great deal to learn from our failures, so we endeavor to share them and the lessons we’ve learned in hopes of avoiding those same mistakes in the future.
When seeking to tackle intractable problems in an environment like Iraq, missed opportunities, missteps, false starts, and failures are par-for-the-course. There will be no improvement in the political situation in Iraq, in the economy, in healthcare, or in the pursuit of peace without a number of flops and failures along the journey. If we already knew what worked, we all would’ve implemented it by now and moved on.
The truth is, neither the American government nor the Iraqi—neither international nor local NGOs—truly know what works in Iraq. Most of us are making educated guesses and seeking to rightly adapt programs and principles that have proven successful at other times in Iraq or in other parts of the world.
From this point forward, I want to provide you with an annual (and sometimes real-time) assessment of our failures. In absence of such previous reports, I will use a few minutes to highlight our most meaningful setbacks, failures and lessons learned to date.
The three major failures of 2011, to be covered in this report are:
Failure #2: High-mortality Remedy Missions in February/March 2011 (Read about Failure #2 here)
Failure #3: The Loss of Our Sulaymaniyah, Iraq Surgery Site as a Major Developmental Partner; Lack of Surgical Capacity Increase As a Result of Remedy Missions Conducted
Let’s get started…
Failure #3: The Loss of Our Sulaymaniyah, Iraq Surgery Site as a Major Developmental Partner
Unfortunately, it became obvious in May 2011, after completing two Remedy Missions to the Sulaymaniyah Center for Heart Disease, that local organizations and hospital leadership were not committed to the partnership. In-fighting over child selection, credit sharing and cost sharing dogged the nascent partnership from day one.
We struggled for one year to make the partnership work. But ultimately, we failed to keep it all together. What we deemed to be petty lines in the sand gave us deep concerns over the ability of local players to see our program through to the 5-year completion that we had all discussed and envisioned.
Our March 2011 Remedy Mission IV was a huge disappointment in many ways. We went back to the drawing board and made a few required upgrades before our international team would agree to work again in the hospital.
By May 2011, as we tried to put the final touches on our next mission to the center, the local hospital had failed to made requisite upgrades in hardware, medications and supplies.
In consultation with our international partners, we ultimately issued a vote of “no confidence” and cancelled the pending mission.
In many ways this felt like a waste—a waste of nearly 8,000 of cumulative training hours; a waste of financial resources on a program that apparently lacked the willpower to see commitments through to the end, etc. All we had to show for our two missions in the city were 42 operations—including a few ground-breaking, inspirational cases; some amazing stories of peace and reconciliation; and eight deaths.
Within six months, we heard that the heart center was moving forward with an Italian team along a contract similar to the one we had originally proposed. The Italian mission in the Fall 2011 was deemed a success, and many surgeries were performed, but after the mission was completed rumors again circulated about local politics and an apparent inability to mobilize the center toward a long-term contract with the Italian team.
In a January 2012 meeting with the Director of Health for the province, we inquired about the number of surgeries that had been performed since our team and the Italian team had conducted three surgical missions to the city. To our great disappointment, the health director laughed and asked if we were joking, saying that the hospital’s surgical capacity had not improved in the previous year, in spite of the three missions. He laid the blame at the feet of local staff and the politics and health and not at the feet of the international teams that had attempted to help.
I’m not entirely sure we’ve learned all there is to learn from this yet. Our inability to woo or influence the hospital leadership into making the necessary upgrades was frustrating, but it is still unclear how we could have sweetened the deal or foreseen it coming prior to the May 2011 deadline that we set.
I am grateful that we made the decision to pull the plug on the program rather than continue to invest valuable resources (from all parties) into a stagnate program. The cumulative work done by international teams in the Center over the course of one year should have led to a measurable increase in surgical capacity. That is how our programs are designed and we are seeing an increase in capacity in other cities.
One question that we have contemplated is the idea of exclusivity in our contracts with a hospital. Should we insist on exclusive rights to train in a hospital, in an effort to increase commitment, decrease the opportunity for communication breakdowns and competing interests, etc? In the southern cities of Iraq where we work (where security risks are a much greater concern and where development is further behind the northern cities), we do not have competing interests. This appears to have created a greater loyalty and a healthier trust between our international and local teams than anything we were able to achieve in Sulaymaniyah. Our inclination continues to be against such exclusivity demands, but the question has come up as we seek to understand what went wrong and how we can avoid it in the future.
We cut our losses before running a mission in a dangerous environment. Perhaps most importantly, we cut our losses on a program that showed little organizational leadership and, in the words of the health director himself, zero increase in surgical output resulting from our educational, material, and infrastructural inputs. While the loss itself is a huge disappointment and I feel a personal sense of failure for my inability to cobble together a solution, it could have been so much worse.
It has been an exhilarating year in so many ways. But the above failures have been sobering. Yes, children are alive that may not be if we had not intervened. But it is undoubtedly true that children have died because we intervened. If our mandate is primum non nocere—first, do no harm—then it is cleared that we have failed on that front at least a few times this year. At least one was related to indecisiveness—a leadership failure on my part. Some of the other deaths were to be expected given the risks that were clearly communicated to the family. But we do not only seek to “do no harm.” We have another object in view: we seek to do good. And we did not attain the good that we desired in our now defunct partnership. For reasons to which we are not privy, they have failed to increase their surgical output as a result of our efforts. We made the right decision walking away from the partnership for the time being. We will remain open to reengaging in the future if local conditions change.
I am most impressed and proud of our team’s willingness to confront and respond to failure on a trip-by-trip basis. When it became obvious that a mission could not run without an international cardiologist, we responded. When the local conditions required staggering the deployment of extra nursing staff so that ICU care could extend in a professional manner beyond the duration of the official trip itself, we responded. And when we were urged to move ahead with a mission in spite of conditions that we believed to be unsafe, we responded by canceling the trip.
There are at least a few viable philosophies as to how one should develop a pediatric cardiac care program. Some progressive; some conservative. Some are boring and more predictable; others are inspiring and innovative. We are proud to work with professionals who employ different methodologies and adhere to different philosophies of development. We will no doubt continue to face difficult days as we face down death and attempt to eradicate the backlog of Iraqi children waiting in line for lifesaving heart surgery. But we envision a day in the future when every child across the country has access to the care they need within a 3 hour car ride. And we will continue to labor toward that end.
If you have any questions or concerns about this report, the decisions we’ve made, or the direction we are going, please email me at your convenience. I would love to hear from you.
December 7, 2011 by matt · Comments Off
Haka ta nazani, chava da jeerani.
Translation: “If you don’t know, look to your neighbor.”
Photo by Jamal Penjweny
Behar Godani is the kind of person non-profits dream of having in their corner. In fact, if you search “ultimate supporter” in Wikipedia… well, you mostly get a bunch of gibberish, but you should see her photo.
She started spearheading support for PLC way back in the day; fund-raisers, spreadin’ the word, Facebook “likes”, bake sales—she’s done it all! And that’s great for an overseas staff like ours because we don’t spend much time Stateside. She’s a lifeline across the Atlantic, and today (which also happens to be her birthday!) she agreed to an interview:
PLC: Let’s start by hearing a little about you. Tell us about yourself.
Behar: My name is Behar, and I’m now a 25 year-old student program analyst for the US Department of State. I recently graduated with my MA in Political Science and my Graduate Certificate in Bio-defense for Critical Analysis and Strategic Responses to Terrorism. I’m interested in anything and everything relating to politics in the Middle East, although, being Kurdish, I’ve always had a bias for the politics surrounding Iraqi Kurdistan.
Over the past year I’ve been a co-partner in two projects that resulted in the production of a documentary and short film on the Kurdish Diaspora in the US, and I did some work with the US Institute of Peace where I was featured in a documentary about issues in diaspora communities.
Non profit work through various organizations has also always been a profound interest of mine. The use of media to promote issues within my own diaspora community and my Kurdish community back home has been a way for me to feel like I’m contributing in some positive way—however small—to a homeland that I’ve always felt connected to but have never quite had complete access to.
My ultimate aspiration, on a more general level, would be to finally see peace in Iraq as a whole, but, more specifically, I yearn for the day when my particular country—Kurdistan—is finally independent and when its children have the educational and healthcare initiatives in place that ensures a long term, brighter future for generations to come.
PLC: So how did you hear about the Preemptive Love Coalition?
Behar: Maureen Mcluckie from “Kurdistan: Save the Children” first referred me to Jeremy and Cody via email after I expressed my desire to become directly involved with an NPO helping Kurds and Arabs in Iraq from the states.
When I first saw the initial BuyShoesSaveLives website, I remember getting goosebumps as I couldn’t believe the amount of dedication and love PLC put into helping Iraqi children and how easy it was for anyone to simply donate. They even had ideas about how we as students could get involved at our universities, and that’s when I think I knew I’d found the right organization.
Seeing teenagers wear klash with jeans was perhaps another indicator. Who knew Kurdish shoes could look so cool with jeans?!
PLC: You’ve obviously got a big heart for your homeland and these children. Where does your motivation for them come from?
Behar: I think my greatest motivation has been a sincere desire to move beyond the politics and crippling bureaucracy that’s done such a huge disservice to all Iraqis and to simply start at the grassroots level by helping people.
As a child of two Kurdish parents who first came to the US as refugees about thirty years ago, I’ve seen the power of grassroots movements first hand in terms of keeping culture and language alive, but also by bringing people together in the name of a greater cause that we can all believe in.
Helping sick children, many of whom continue to suffer from the diseases contracted by their parents after exposure to Saddam Hussein’s chemical agents, is a cause that is—or at least should be—an easy way to unite people of all backgrounds, be they Kurdish, Iraqi, Turcomen, Assyrian, or your average American with an incredibly big heart. It’s something we can all agree on as human beings, and I couldn’t find an organization that communicated that better than PLC.
PLC: Thanks! Is there anything you’d like to tell the rest of the Coalition? Any rally cries, encouragements, or challenges?
Behar: I’d like to encourage continued commitment despite all the opposition, obstacles and incredibly vocal naysayers that you may encounter along your way. Where there are pure hearts, strong wills, a love of God and a refusal to accept ‘no’ for an answer, there will always be a way, God-willing.
Our thanks to Behar and the entire Kurdish Student Organization at George Mason University for being such awesome partners for kids in Iraq! We’re wishing you a happy birthday today from Iraqi Kurdistan!
This week we’re joining Kurds around the world in celebrating Newroz (now-rose), or Kurdish (and Persian) New Year. I’m only a few weeks into life in Iraq, but it didn’t take long to see why people say Newroz is a great time to live and work among the Kurds. These people know how to celebrate!
According to legend, the first Newroz came after the death of an evil king who was performing child sacrifices to feed his snakes. All the gruesome details can be read here, but I just wanted to point out how beautifully I think this holiday coincides with our work.
It’s a celebration of things being made new. Children get a chance at life.
If you’ve spent any time with us or on our site, you know that this theme of new life for children is central to who we are, and the fact that you’ve chosen to join the Coalition and make life possible for these Iraqi kids is a HUGE boon for us and, more importantly, for the future of Iraq.
So, from all of our staff: Happy Newroz from Iraq!
Yahya passed away early this morning after an all-night surgery. It was a surprise to everyone. When he was admitted to the ICU there seemed to be plenty of confidence that he would be just fine. But within just 30 minutes of admission his heart gave out and all efforts to revive him failed.
I still remember the first time I was introduced to Yahya. It was over a year ago. His uncle called my cell phone and said, “I’m at your office, I need to talk to you about a sick kid.”
It was after hours and I was already at home. But I could hear the urgency in his voice so I invited him to my home for tea. He arrived and made an impassioned plea for Yahya – his brother’s son. I was leery of helping Yahya after reading his reports – we had seen some children with complex heart defects like him die abroad and I couldn’t stand to put a family through that drama again. I did my best to avoid commitment and send Yahya’s uncle into the night without any solid hope for his nephew.
The following weeks were filled with phone calls and followup from the family, “Please help our boy!”
Finally, I met Yahya’s mom and dad and the little cutie himself. As they sat in my office they pled with humble urgency. They weren’t forceful. They weren’t rude. But they applied enough pressure on me that I couldn’t say “no” any longer. They made it abundantly clear that they understood the risk of his surgery and that they wanted it badly enough to endure whatever might come.
One of our core values as an organization is that we give “hope to the hopeless.” What that means is that we try to balance our impulse to be “last chance” people with our instinct to be “long-term” people. We held back on Yahya, wondering if it would give him long-term viability. But we ultimately dove in with Yahya’s family because we were their last chance. No one else would take on the risk.
We solidified this core value in November 2009 when we asked you what to do about a little boy named Ramyar. We asked you if you wanted us to apply your money in a high risk surgery or save it for a “sure thing.” You overwhelming said, “We want this Coalition to be about hope for the hopeless.”
We haven’t looked back since. We are the Last Chancers.
Still, committing to Yahya was full of complications. His surgery in Turkey was canceled due to an unavailability of an expensive assistant device. In fact, there was even discussion as to whether or not he should be included in our current Remedy Mission. Ultimately, we let the family themselves decide.
Our local cardiologist, along with our American surgeon, explained the risks of surgery, the option of waiting, etc. etc. Yahya’s dad was given a 50/50 chance of survival for little Yahya. Understandably, they wanted to give it a try. They couldn’t stand the risk of feeling like they had an opportunity to try and let it slip through their hands.
What would you have done? I have two kids – 5 and 3 years old. I have no idea what I would have done.
During Yahya’s surgery our Family Services Director, Jessica, sat down in the ward with all the parents whose kids were either in surgery or in critical condition in the ICU – those families whose kids were not “out of the woods” yet. As they asked questions about our organization and how long we’ve been working here, she recounted for them our past of taking children outside the country to significantly nicer hospitals than this Iraqi version in which we currently work. She told them about excellent American-trained Turkish doctors and fancy, pristine protocols abroad. Without fail, every family was so grateful for the chance to receive surgery at home. Let the Turks have their pristine hospital. “What if our child were to die abroad?” That would be a burden far too great to bear.
You gave Yahya’s family a chance that no one else would have. He had been rejected by every other opportunity out there. They are grateful to you. They will rest knowing they gave it their all for their only child.
And this is what we find almost universally – parents who just want a chance. And that’s what Remedy Missions are all about. We could continue to export kids to world class facilities, but who would invest in the future? We could continue to select the easiest children that almost never die, but does that make us any less culpable for the kids we pretend aren’t knocking on our door?
Was this a wasted opportunity? Did we waste the $670 that it cost us to provide Yahya surgery?
I used to feel that way when a child died in Turkey or Jordan or Jordan. I don’t feel that way anymore. Yahya’s death – though a terrible loss – was still an opportunity for local doctors to learn an innovative technique that they will be able to apply in future situations. His death was almost certainly unrelated to the particular tactic used in attempting to heal his heart. Educational gains always have significant costs. Before we only had the “we gave this child a chance” platitude. It’s not untrue. But local learning is an equally deep reason why your gift for Yahya made a difference.
Thank you for your willingness to stick with us through life and death. The gains that are needed here will not be made without significant risk and vision. We deeply appreciate your demand that we be the people of the last chance. I think it’s easier to sleep knowing we tried, than knowing we played it safe just so we could publish numbers and blog posts that seem more palatable.
+1 (806) 853-9131
Ahmed is prepared for surgery with our visiting cardiologist, Dr. Sri Rao, of the International Children’s Heart Foundation. Photo by Heber Vega
Ahmed’s 5 year battle to obtain his much-needed heart surgery is now a thing of the past after a 5.5 hour surgery that successfully corrected all five major heart defects! He’s now resting in ICU with his uncle who hasn’t left his side since his parents were seriously injured in a car crash this past week. If you haven’t read Ahmed’s story be sure to read it here.
We’ve all fallen in love with Ahmed, there’s no denying it. Today our joy is through the roof as we celebrate Ahmed’s life and the good news that both of his parents are recovering with him a few hours away in their home city!
Ahmed’s heart can now give his body everything it needs to run, jump, and shout for joy, thanks to you!
It’s always an exciting journey to the hospital each morning to see our kids. But tomorrow morning the trip is going to be special.
We can’t wait to see our friend, Ahmed.
Remedy Missions are international pediatric heart surgery teams that we bring to Iraq to to perform lifesaving heart surgeries and develop the infrastructure for the future. If you’re on Twitter this week be sure to use the #Remedy or #RemedyMission hashtag to describe all the good news coming out of Iraq this week via @preemptivelove and @babyheart_org. If you’re on Facebook, “Share” this story with the button below.
August 15, 2010 by Jeremy · Comments Off
There is no sound on this video… but you will hear the impact of your giving loud and clear by the end of next week.
Remedy Missions are international pediatric heart surgery teams that we bring to Iraq to to perform lifesaving heart surgeries and develop the infrastructure for the future.
If you’re on Twitter this week be sure to use the #Remedy or #RemedyMission hashtag to describe all the good news coming out of Iraq this week via @preemptivelove and @babyheart_org.
The photo above tells the story of an extremely different child than the one we met in March right before boarding a plane to Istanbul, Turkey. Three months ago Baroof received a rare and complicated surgery for his age – a surgery that ultimately has spared his life and ushered in a new season of joy and obvious strength.
But basking in this season of salvation isn’t quite as easy as it might be for other children in other places. Baroof’s family lives on the Iraq – Turkey border, where for years Kurdish separatist rebels (members of the Kurdish Worker’s Party or the PKK) have been mounting attacks against the Turkish government in pursuit of an independent Kurdish nation. In response to the PKK’s terrorizing of Turkish civilians and military personnel, the Turkish government often responds with a blunted hammer where a precision tool might have been more effective.
The activities of the PKK claim to be a response to Turkish oppression. And Turkish heavy-handedness claims to be a response to Kurdish terrorism. And thus, the cycle continues.
Because of this cycle, Baroof and his family have grown up with a relatively monochromatic view of Turks and Turkey – such as “Turks are the oppressors who kill our Kurdish cousins in Turkey and cross international borders into Iraq to kill our family here as well” or something similar.
In March, we helped throw a splash of color on that single story. What was once a black and white issue has been somewhat mitigated by the kind actions of Turkish doctors who give generously of themselves and their skills to serve children like Baroof. The kindness was not lost on Baroof or his family. Now back in Iraq after surgery, they express their gratitude to Kurds around them for the Turks who saved their son’s life, thereby pushing back a single story about Turkish oppression and easy justifications of Kurdish rebellion.
Some of Baroof’s tribal members and distant cousins have died at the hands of the Turkish military. Others likely bare the scars of near-misses and raids gone wrong. But Baroof’s scar is a line of love from your heart, through Istanbul, Turkey, all the way to the border of Turkey and Iraq.
Your financial gifts have enabled Turkish surgeons to write new language into the region.
Baroof starts school again in September. Because of you, his desk will not sit empty this year. Because of you, his Kurdish friends – who might otherwise be enticed into the ways of PKK terror – will constantly contend with the scar on his chest and the technicolor story it tells.
June 10, 2010 by Lauren · Comments Off
On March 16, 1988, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War, the Iraqi military used chemical weapons on the city of Halabja. The attack was meant to erase all Halabja inhabitants off the map: plants, animals and humans. A total of 5,000 men, women and children were killed in the attack, and of the survivors, 11,000 were injured.
As we walked through the memorial, I recalled an ancient Hebrew poem:
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept
When we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
For there our captors asked us for songs,
Our tormentors demanded songs of joy
The poem is about the Hebrew people who were exiled in the land of Babylon, present-day Iraq. They cried because they missed their homeland; they cried because they were expected to be happy and play songs for their captors. But they couldn’t.
I wonder if that’s how the survivors of Halabja felt. They didn’t want to sing songs. Their families died. Their neighbors died. Like the Hebrews, some Iraqis living in Halabja had to leave their land and flee to Iran.
I’m trying to make sense of what happened in Halabja. I’m trying to make it mean something to me. We are bombarded with images of war and genocide on the news, making it easy to forget that Halabja was a reality. We forget that congenital birth defects caused by this and similar chemical attacks are a reality.
O, Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us
I hate how the Hebrew poem ends. Instead of offering hope for a people, it speaks of revenge against the tormentors. Hate is so easy. It is our job to choose not to hate.
Many children here need surgeries and medication and therapy to address their congenital birth defects. And some of them probably need this help as a result of the chemical attacks in Halabja and other attacks similar to it. As a newcomer and summer intern, I love that the Preemptive Love Coalition response to genocide is not to seek revenge on behalf of victims, but to work alongside Iraqis to bring healing to suffering children.
|Mohammad’s family had $6,000 in-hand on loan from a friend to get their son the heart surgery he needed. Then the creditor decided to build a new house and took his loan back before Mohammad received surgery. Now the family is trying to find surgical solutions. Donate the amount of your choice by entering it in the field below to help send Mohammad to life-saving heart surgery.