Uncertainty is a way of life here.
When it comes down to it, the answer to questions is often “I don’t know.” This was the answer I got when I asked whether or not I’d be going to Fallujah for Remedy Mission X last July. The problem wasn’t the lack of communication, the real challenge, for me, was the inability to create expectations (and therefore plans) of any kind. It’s often difficult to gauge what a mission is going to look like, especially when the mission is a first-of-its-kind in a new city. And, since Fallujah was a first-ever, it was guaranteed to have bumps along the way. Embracing this fact, I made sure to walk into the week with an open mind.
I’d heard a lot about Fallujah over the years, but most importantly I knew that the city had experienced a lot of pain and difficulty, and all I wanted to do was make it better—somehow. But how? How could I, a 20 year old from America, be able to make any difference in such a big, broken place so far from home?
The more I pondered this question, the more my response made sense to me: I can make a difference by endeavoring to love everyone I come into contact with. But that begs the question: “how do I show my love for these people when I’ve barely just met them?” I strived to find an answer to this question all week.
And the week was a blur!
Children were in and out of the operating room faster than I thought possible. But with the intention to love in the back of my mind at all times, I moved forward in my interactions with the children and their families filled with as much purpose and love as I could muster. I made sure not to let my fatigue and frustration show, and I made sure to have a smile on my face at all times. I was there to be a friendly face and bearer of joy as I documented the mission with my camera.
Looking back, I can barely recall how exhausted I was that week as the experiences of love and joy stand out far more prominently in my mind. The doctors loved the children, the children loved their parents, and the parents loved the doctors.
As love is put into the world, love circles back around. It begets itself.
In the course of a week I took hundreds of photos. Photos of everything from the children hanging out in pre-op to the doctors working in the cath lab. But out of all the images that I took in the course of the week the ones that stand out the most to me are the ones of kisses, crayons, and bubbles—not because they’re the cutest images of the week, but because they best exemplify the love that filled the hospital. The very same love that I tried to foster all week.
But all of that effort made by our team and the local doctors is just a drop in the bucket. Fallujah is still a broken city in need of attention and love, and the past still matters. But if we can continue to push ourselves toward selflessness over and over and over again, mission after mission, then I believe we’ll be able to create a future filled with love towards one another.
I believe we can reshape old perceptions previously founded on hate.
Whenever someone hears about our kids or reads about our work they almost always arrive at the same question: “How did Iraq get this way?” “What caused this?” “Who’s to blame?”
Well, after 4 years of working throughout this country we believe we can provide you with a concise answer to that incredibly complex question. This isn’t about guilting anyone or pointing the finger (there’s already too much of that going around), but it is a hard look at the answer to your question.
Based on Iraq’s history, here are 5 ways to destroy a nation’s healthcare system:
1. Limit a country’s ability to operate politically and economically
In 1990 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 661, which imposed broad, restrictive regulations upon Iraq. In a nutshell, these regulations stipulated that no country in the UN could import or receive any goods from the country.
Unfortunately, the sanctions did more than impede the political and military action of the Iraqi aggressors. The Iraqi economy, that had been so dependent upon oil exports and foreign trade, crashed as a direct result of the Resolution 661.
In 1989 Iraq’s gross domestic profit was over $66 billion. Just seven years later it was estimated as being $10.8 billion. In 1989, annual income per household was $3,510, and by 1996 had fallen to less than $500. Before the sanctions, 93% of the population had ready access to healthcare institutions, which were staffed primarily by physicians who had been trained in Europe or the United States.
This economic collapse primed the country for the health crisis it is in today, a health crisis that has lead to the death of inestimable millions over the last two decades.
2. Slash governmental healthcare funding
In the 1990′s Saddam Hussein cut spending on healthcare by 90%. Continued education, supplies of necessary equipment, and valuable public health programs all suffered without adequate funding research.
Without funding and governmental support, the healthcare system deteriorated.
3. Reduce the number of medical professionals in the country
In some areas, insurgents made it a practice of targeting medical professionals. Although many doctors were not individually targeted, they were still in danger. Ambulances were frequently robbed of their medical supplies, and it was not uncommon for gunmen to enter hospitals and force doctors to care for their injured family members or comrades.
Another blow was dealt to the stability of Iraq’s healthcare when many doctors and nurses, who were lucky enough to escape death, fled the country in a mass exodus, further damaging the quality of the Iraqi healthcare system.
The murder and exodus of Iraqi healthcare professionals is tragic. It has left many families broken and many patients without the care that they need. But the negative effects extend beyond their families and the patients they left behind. Without their mentor-ship, expertise, and knowledge, generations of students from universities and teaching hospitals will continue to have insubstantial educations.
4. Destroy physical healthcare infrastructure
In 2003 American and Coalition forces destroyed two primary public health laboratories and an estimated 12% of hospitals. While speaking about the state of the nation’s healthcare infrastructure, former Minister of Health of Iraq, Khudair Abbas, explained that of the remaining primary care centers, “15% have been looted. Even though 80% remain intact, 40% need extensive repairs…13% do not have clean water and one third are staffed primarily by paramedics rather than physicians”.
During the Gulf War, American and coalition forces destroyed key elements of Iraq’s infrastructure. “Bridges, communications, electricity supplies, water and sewage systems, weapons factories, healthcare facilities, administrative centers, warehouses” and homes were destroyed. While this may have been a strategy aimed at ceasing Iraq’s ability to make war, this strategy did far more than defeat the Iraqi military.
5. Overburden the healthcare system by creating too many patients
The above contributing factors deal primarily with political, structural, organizational, or educational deficits. Ultimately, however, it is the population of patients that compose the largest component of any healthcare system. And, regrettably, there is a vast population of patients in Iraq.
The demolition of water and sewage treatment plants lead to outbreaks of typhoid and cholera. In 1989, there were no cases of cholera per 100,000 people; just 5 years later there were 1,344 cases per 100,000 people.
According to studies, by 1996 31% of children under five were chronically malnourished. Just a year later, there were a million children under the age of five who were malnourished, and a year after that 70% of women were suffering from anemia. Another study, consistent with the information on malnutrition, found widespread, chronic stunting in school children as an indication of long-term malnutrition.
Poverty’s wide-spread negatively affects the livelihood of the Iraqi people. Low socioeconomic status is associated with lower levels of education, poorer nutritional intake, and higher risk of congenital heart defects.
Research shows that poor diet contributes to far more negative effects than weight loss, anemia, nutritional deficiency, and compromised immune system. Without the funds to afford healthier food, mothers with higher intake of saturated fats and lower intake of nicotinamide (vitamin B3) have increased risk of giving birth to children with congenital heart defects. 5, 8 Furthermore, low dietary intake levels of folic acid (vitamin B9) around the time of conception have been linked to higher risk of neural tube disorders.
But nutrition and education are not the sole arbiters of death and ill health. Many parts of the country still suffer from the chemical and biological attacks perpetrated by Saddam Hussein. Not only are individuals suffering from primary exposure, but research supports that children of those who were exposed suffer secondary effects in the form of birth defects.
The list of health problems and their contributing factors continues ad nauseam, and the patient-load continues to overwhelm doctors.
The evidence shows that the state of Iraq’s healthcare system has been nearly two decades in the making. The downward spiral began with sanctions in the 1990’s by making the nation more susceptible to economic collapse. It continued with a multitude of factors including military action by the US and Coalition forces, violence wrought by religious extremists, and a vast backlog of patients.
The question remains, is it too late for Iraqis to rebuild their healthcare system?
Is Iraq too far gone?
Of course not! The restoration of Iraq’s medical infrastructure is happening now!
This November 5th will be our biggest surgical mission yet–lives will be saved, doctors will be trained and Iraq will be one big step closer to restoring what was broken!
July 24, 2011 by Ryan · Comments Off
1: Dressing up isn’t only about looking good
For the most part, in America, men don’t dress up to impress their platonic male friends in social settings. When going out somewhere, whether it’s a sporting event, coffee shop, fast food joint or just hanging out somewhere, men typically don’t dress to impress their male friends. We just don’t. If I showed up to have lunch with a friend wearing slacks, dress shoes and a button down shirt, he’d almost be sure to ask where I was coming from or where I was going, that required such attire.
Would you press your shirt and throw on a tie for an all-guys backyard barbecue? Would you shine your shoes and put on slacks to go watch a ball game at a friends house?
Let’s be honest. The answer is no, you wouldn’t.
But the Kurds do. Every weekend in the bazaar, at tea shops or just walking in the street I see Kurdish men wearing slacks, button-down shirts and the shiniest shoes I’ve ever seen in the dustiest place I’ve ever been. Here in Sulaymaniyah, dressing up is not all about looking good. It’s an expression of respect to the people around you as well as to the friend you are meeting for tea. Dressing up isn’t about demonstrating how dapper you can look. It’s about wordlessly saying, “The time I spend with you is a special occasion, and that is worth dressing up for.”
2: Hospitality isn’t just refilling the bowl of potato chips
I always try to be a good host when people come over. I’ve got the basics down – offer them food, offer them drinks, “is there anything I can get you?” – you know, the usual. But since coming to Kurdistan, I’m realizing that hospitality isn’t just refilling the bowl of potato chips; my hospitality should not be confined to guests at my house.
While being here, so many Kurds have gone to great lengths to show me hospitality: from physically leading me to my destination when I’m lost (despite it being in the opposite direction of their destination) to spending entire afternoons with me drinking tea, playing backgammon, teaching me Kurdish and talking about life. When was the last time you spent an afternoon with a stranger, let alone an acquaintence, just to show them a good time?
3: We all yearn for reconciliation
I entered Kurdistan harboring misunderstandings. Besides some brief reading of Kurdish’s history, most of my opinions of Kurdistan were shaped by mainstream media and ignorance. Let me tell you, that was a mistake. My Kurdish friends laughed as I explained the common perceptions of Iraq and Muslims in general, and grimaced soberly as they explained that Osama Bin Laden wasn’t a real Muslim because of the way he perverted, corrupted and twisted the teachings of Islam for violence and hatred.
My Kurdish friends laughed as I told them that not all Americans are like the people on Jersey Shore and that our nation isn’t entirely filled with debaucherous hedonists. They nodded disapprovingly as I spoke about the Westboro Baptist Church and their hateful and irreverent propaganda, and nodded in agreement as I said that we reject them as true representations of Christian theology and culture.
Many things became clear through these conversations, but the most profound epiphany I experienced was that we all yearn for reconciliation. We spoke about TV and culture, but what we were doing was reaching for common ground, understanding, and reconciliation. In discussing our differences and our misunderstandings, we found a common desire for peace between our cultures.
July 11, 2011 by Anton · Comments Off
The definition of the word include is to place in an aggregate, class, or category. Being included is easy. I can be included in a conversation by merely being present at the right time or place. I can be included on an email chain even if I have no desire to be. I can be included in a church body or an organization without so much as lifting a finger.
The definition of the word invest is to use, give, or devote (time, talent, etc.), as for a purpose or to achieve something.
The main difference between involve and invest is the outcome of the action. Many times I have been involved in a conversation and have never invested my opinions, thoughts, or attention to reaching any outcome, let alone a positive one.
Many people talk about peace in the Middle East as if it is just going to happen. I, myself, was a member of that group. I talked about it, but said nothing of how or in what way I could make a difference. We do this because it feels good to be included. People everywhere include themselves in one people group or cause in order to gain identity. But real identity grows out of investment. And investment grows out of involvement.
My personal investment in the promotion of peace in the Middle East grew out of my involvement with the Preemptive Love Coalition. I first became interested when I met Cody Fisher, and he told me about his passion for the Iraqi and Kurdish people and the work Preemptive Love does to promote peace between communities at odds.
My involvement grew as I learned more about them and heard of their summer internship program. It slowly turned into investment over the course of the next year beginning when I liked their Facebookmaris garden aquaponics
“> page. It grew when I would occasionally repost something that they put up and tell my friends about this awesome non-profit. This investment was nurtured through prayer for peace, and began to blossom when I applied to the internship program.
Now I am even more invested in promoting peace and spreading love (through graphic design) to a people who have suffered brokenness and hate for generations. It is through this I am beginning to see my true identity. I see where I fit into the picture, and I'm excited to watch that picture come together.
I've now been in Iraq for 5 weeks working as a design intern for Preemptive Love, and I'm amazed to see how many people want this peace that we sometimes talk so flippantly about. The best part is that it isn't the unachievable fantasy I used to believe in. All it takes is a little investment. A dollar here, a tweet or status update there. Involvement can grow fairly easily (and sometimes unbeknownst to us) into investment. For me it started with a conversation and developed into a commitment.
By reading this entire post, you've already been included. Why not take it a step further?
The Coalition does not exist without YOU. Together we are mending hearts. Together we are waging peace. Click “Donate Now!” and continue to INVEST in the future of Iraq.
See One. Do One. Teach One. Remedy Mission Trains Iraqi Heart Doctors and Nurses for the Future of the Children and their Country
February 23, 2011 by Jeremy · Comments Off
Push play above for a peek into what it means for our volunteers to be here training local Iraqi heart doctors and nurses.
After you’ve viewed it, please “SHARE” below with Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg, etc.
If you’re on Twitter this week be sure to use the #RemedyMission hashtag to describe all the good news coming out of Iraq this week via @preemptivelove.
February 21, 2011 by Cody · Comments Off
This morning Alawi got the heart surgery we’ve all been waiting for!
Local doctors and nurses – alongside the ICHF team – took a minimalistic approach to his repair, seeking to do as little “trauma” to his heart as possible. Unfortunately, after surgery, it seemed the minimalist approach wasn’t holding as well as they hoped. They decided to perform an even more robust correction that would make Alawi even stronger than he already was.
So Alawi went yet again into the operating room just as bravely as he went into his first operation.
Alawi’s a reminder of what we’re committed to – we will do whatever it takes to make each child and each Iraqi doctor and nurse into the healthiest child and most-skilled doctor or nurse they can be.
Hoping for the best still never makes it easy to watch a child go in for surgery.
We could not do this without you! You are our heroes and you inspire us to keep going so much! Stay tuned to get the latest update on Alawi from the ICU via our Facebook Page!
You need to.
This just may be the cutest and most adorable boy in Iraq.
Alawi Hussein is just under three and a half years old and he was born with a congenital heart defect.
At 9 months old, instead of taking bets on what his first word was going to be, his parents were coping with the devastating news that Alawi had a heart problem. It was a heart problem, like most heart problems in Iraq, that could only be fixed outside of Iraq.
The list of countries that could help him was long.
Basically – many other countries except the one he was born in.
While the list of opportunities was long, the list of actual possibilities for Alawi was short.
Hearing about all the doctors overseas that can heal your son is simply cruel if you don’t have the money – or even a passport – to pursue the option.
His family had to learn to enjoy the time they had with Alawi and just hope for a remedy the doctors might have somehow missed.
That surprise came this month when they were called by their local cardiologist here in southern Iraq and told that Alawi no longer needs to go overseas to be saved, because of a team of doctors and nurses that was being brought in to save his life at the hospital just fifteen minutes from their home
It was thirty-two months later than they were hoping but remedy finally came to southern Iraq.
We still hope that Alawi’s family will visit foreign countries someday, but not as last chance medical tourists!
You are the Remedy.
You bring in medical teams every time you give. Our medical teams teach Iraqi doctors and nurses. Our medical teams save lives. So Iraqi doctors and nurses learn how to save lives. Our medical team goes home. The Iraqi’s keep saving lives.
It’s one beautiful domino affect!
We hope we can save Alawi’s life this week… and not just because he’s one of the cutest boys in Iraq! Follow Alawi’s story this week on the blog and on our Facebook page (<-- link) to see what comes next...
February 16, 2011 by Jeremy · Comments Off
It’s been a long journey from our home in northern to southern Iraq but we just can’t stay away – the doctors, nurses, and people here want their own fully functioning heart surgery center so badly!
Today marks the end of Remedy Mission Day #1 with the International Children’s Heart Foundation and Living Light International.
Push play above for a quick overview of day one and a setup of what’s to come this week from southern Iraq….
If you’re on Twitter this week be sure to use the #RemedyMission hashtag to describe all the good news coming out of Iraq this week via @preemptivelove.
Photo by Just Us 3
In Los Angeles last week we met three brothers who had given up their birthday money to help save the life of a child in Iraq. All three brothers are under the age of five, which makes them the youngest heart menders we’ve met on the tour!
From their house I hopped on a plane that took me to Dearborn, Michigan outside of Detroit to spend an afternoon with Imam Qazwini. Imam Qazwini is the leader of the Muslim community in Dearborn where he preaches and leads times of prayer in the largest mosque in America. He is also widely held to be the leading voice for Muslims in North America while also advocating tirelessly for reconciliation, tolerance, and peace.
He was born in Iraq but spent 32 years as a refugee after Saddam Hussein killed his grandfather along with 15 other family members for being Shiite. During my time with Imam Qazwini, we shared stories and drank tea as he told me about his family and his love for Iraq. But what impacted me the most was his vision for the future.
This man believes in peace. This man believes in reconciliation. This man is a heartmender.
He’s committed to a future for Iraq that doesn’t involve bombs, chemicals, or racism. To my surprise, he and his ayatollah father (who is still in Iraq) are both actively committed to a future where a backlog of 20-30,000 children waiting for lifesaving heart surgery is a thing of the past.
As I finished my tea with Imam Qazwini I thought about those three boys who had given their birthday money to save a life. What does a 2-year-old have to do with someone like Imam Qazwini? They both believe they can make a difference. They’re both heartmenders.
Today I thanked GOD for Imam Qazwini in Dearborn and for those three boys in Los Angeles along with all those out there who believe in tomorrow.
What are you up to today to mend hearts in your community or in Iraq? Let us know on Facebook or via Twitter (both below).
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.