Iraq: Residents come together to help displaced families

BAGHDAD, 1 May 2007 (IRIN) - Some families in Baghdad have started working together to collect food and essential items for displaced people living in makeshift camps on the outskirts of the capital - an initiative that has been welcomed by local NGOs.

"The idea came from a child who was missing two of his friends who were displaced. His family decided to take the child to visit them. When they got back home he asked his mother to send some food to his friends' families. His mother then spoke about it to a neighbour of theirs as the situation of the displaced was desperate," said Sa'ad Ruweidi, one of the organisers of the project.

"Since then, hundreds of families have been collecting food and other items from their neighbours to send to camps for IDPs [internally displaced people]. These items have been helping the displaced survive, as NGOs are not able to cope and with the increase in violence are scared to go to such areas," Ruweidi added.

Despite its extremely volatile situation, Baghdad has more displaced people living there than any other city in Iraq, with about 120,000 people displaced since February 2006, according to a recent report by the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI). It added that many of these were displaced from within Baghdad.

Six neighbourhoods of the capital, with relatively less violence than others, are participating in the initiative.

"Every day we collect enough to fill five cars. Some women cook and we take fresh food to the [displaced] families who are so happy to be able to eat the hot meals we bring them," said Ruweidi.

Fatah Ahmed, spokesman for NGO Iraqi Aid Association (IAA), said the families who are helping the displaced have changed the image of present-day Iraq and have helped NGOs, which are struggling to assist so many displaced families.

"Everyone should be aware of this initiative. If every neighbourhood in Baghdad does the same, we will have fewer children suffering from malnutrition and fewer men will become criminals to support their loved ones," Ahmed said.

Children also participate in the project by helping their relatives carry the collected items and going to the displacement camps to help distribute them.

"I feel so good helping those families. The looks on their faces when we arrive are amazing - they become so happy," Muhammad Haddi, a 14-year-old resident of Mansour district, said.

Local NGOs have been supporting the initiative and have been offering supplies to add to those already collected.

According to Ruweidi, the project will be replicated in cities such as Kerbala, Najaf and Kirkuk.

Religious leaders from four Baghdad neighbourhoods - Sunni-dominated Yarmouk and Mansour in western Baghdad, religiously mixed Harthiya, also in western Baghdad, and religiously mixed Arassat in the city's east - have been asking congregations during Friday prayers to participate in the project. Donations for assisting the displaced are kept in the local mosques or at the houses of organisers.

"It shows how Iraqis are brave not only in defending their country but also in helping their brothers in need. We're having success with the daily delivery of food items, which has helped many families to survive under such terrible violence," said Sheikh Abdallah Aydan, a religious leader from a mosque in Yarmouk district.