Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA) had the great privilege of hosting a delegation of Iraqi officials who are in charge of various high-level national committees, focusing on things like law enforcement, water quality, civic affairs and data collection.
The delegation was visiting the United States as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, focusing on crisis management and disaster response.
Disaster response is among the areas where IRUSA has worked in the past several years. While IRUSA has been responding to disasters since 1995, the Disaster Response Team (DRT) was formally created in 2011. Since its creation, DRT has responded to 35 disasters and trained some 1,200 volunteers. For the past year, I’ve noticed the breadth of coverage DRT has received the past year, much, if not all, of it being overwhelmingly positive.
The officials received a comprehensive overview of DRT’s work. Over the last few years, the unit has responded to wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, among other natural disasters.
Hani Hamwi, the leader of DRT, gave the presentation, assisted with Arabic translations by IRUSA Executive Assistant May Hashem, who’s also Iraqi and helped arrange the event.
Hamwi told the officials that plenty of work is involved in effectively responding to disasters, which can be divided into four phases. They include training volunteers (preparedness), helping people who were negatively impacted (response), help people feel a sense of normalcy (recovery), and finding ways to remove the risk for future disasters.
A video about DRT contained a statement describing the DRT’s approach to recovery, “We’re in it for the long haul.”
The officials asked about how IRUSA determines what emergencies to address, and when they activate their team. Hamwi said they take into account the scope of the response needed and step in as soon as a state of emergency is declared.
He pointed out that IRUSA enjoys strong relationships with American Red Cross, FEMA and National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
In addition to natural disasters, the DRT helped distribute some 300,000 bottles of water during the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
A calendar of sorts was also displayed, showing the time periods when particular types of disasters commonly take place.
The officials were asked about some of their biggest needs in Iraq. They mentioned how the problem of internally displaced people remains huge, and the need for basic things like modernizing water infrastructure and school buildings.
They said there is also a need for modern-day medical equipment. Oftentimes, patients are sent from one hospital to another because of insufficient devices or limited resources.
Needless to say, the challenges are enormous. Between decades of war, corruption, dictatorships, among other things, the potential of Iraq, often referred to as “the cradle of civilization,” has never been fully realized. Whether many of these problems, if not crises, can be solved by non-governmental organizations is difficult to say. As one of the visitors acknowledged, it will probably require a collaboration of government, NGOs and the private sector to make positive differences.
Providing and introducing IRUSA to individuals and groups who are not all that familiar with it is the crucial first step. Then, it requires work to build and strengthen relationships and see to it that everyone is on the same page when it comes to targeting and achieving goals.
The first step has been taken. Whether the next steps will be taken will be a question of resources, practicality and capacity. As always, IRUSA is ready to help when possible.
IRUSA President Anwar Khan welcomed the high-ranking individuals from Iraq.
He recalled distributing aid in Iraq in 1997, particularly in the cities of Basra and Baghdad. He acknowledged that the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War were having a crippling effect on many of the medical facilities there.
“We believe in helping everyone,” he said. “It’s the Islamic thing to do.”
Khan praised the organization’s diverse staff, saying he sees the “spirit” of Islam in each one of them.
“We are guided by our values,” he said, giving examples of providing psycho-social care in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and following a nightclub shooting in Florida.
“There are always people of hate,” Khan said. “There are always people of love.”
In the end, he thanked the officials for trying to make the world a better place.