For Iraqi manufacturer, MCC purchase of tents is bittersweet

Edward Miller
BAGHDAD, Iraq - As a businessperson Abu Ra'id Al-Beldawy welcomes MCC's purchase of 100 new tents to house people if there is another war, but what he really wants is lasting peace.

Abu Ra'id has worked in his car upholstery and tent-making shop since 1973, when, as an adolescent, he began helping out the owner -- his older brother. Over the years he has guided the enterprise through two devastating wars and 12 years of United Nations sanctions.

Given the present circumstances, Abu Ra'id indicates that business is not too bad.

"Business is better now compared with one year or two years ago," he says. "And always in the winter, there is more of a demand for tents."

This year, the demand is even higher. As the prospect of a U.S.-led war with Iraq grows closer, various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are seeking out local manufacturers who can produce emergency-related items such as tents and blankets.

The street has numerous workshops filled with sewers and bright bolts of cloth. But competition for tent-making contracts is minimal, says the businessman.

"Only a few shops here make tents," explains Abu Ra'id. "Most of them make awnings and coverings for chairs."

Fifteen employees at Abu Ra'id's shop are working to fulfill the contract for Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA) and MCC. With only five 20-year-old Brother sewing machines among them, it is a full-time task meeting the weekly quota of 25 tents.

But as Abu Ra'id tells of the latest antics of his two young children, it is clear that the additional business is welcome.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society, the umbrella agency for all NGOs working in Iraq, has requested international organizations to provide relief and emergency items in preparation for what could be an enormous humanitarian crisis here. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians will be vulnerable, without access to adequate food, water or shelter.

Together with ISRA, its main partner organization in Iraq, MCC is stockpiling 100 of Abu Ra'id's tents and 4,000 locally-purchased blankets in strategic locations. Funds have been provided to allow another partner, CARE, to buy 120 six-cubic-meter collapsible water bladders for use at key medical institutions around the country.

In addition, MCC is shipping 28,000 school kits, 40,000 blankets and 16,000 relief buckets to Iraq. So far, two containers, with all of the school kits and about 1,000 relief buckets, have arrived in Jordan. Three containers with about 30,000 blankets are currently on their way to Iraq from Canada.

A final MCC contingency effort is a project supported by Jubilee Partners - a Christian community in Georgia, U.S. - which provides vital medicines to Iraqi children. A total of $145,000 Cdn/$91,000 U.S. has been raised, and in December ISRA procured and delivered to Iraq close to $111,000 Cdn./$70,000 U.S. worth of medicine.

If an attack is miraculously averted this year, the items being procured and delivered now will still be much-needed inputs in Iraq.

For Abu Ra'id Al-Beldawy and his family, indeed for all Iraqis simply trying to get on with their normal lives, the overwhelming hope this new year is for peace.