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Sisterhood’ helps Iraqi city get clean water

Article by: STEVE BRANDT, Star Tribune Updated: August 10, 2011

Minneapolis aid leads to filters in its sister city Najaf.

Lucas Wilcox, foreground, in Najaf, Iraq, sister city to Minneapolis.  Photo: Sami Rasouli

Minneapolis maintains 10 sister city relationships involving four other continents, but the newest one may rival them all for impact.

It’s the link established in 2010 between Minneapolis and Najaf, in Iraq. That relationship is managed by the Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project (IARP), based in Minneapolis.

The sister city connection has helped bring clean water to tens of thousands of Iraqi schoolchildren as that nation’s public infrastructure remains shattered.

IARP, which predates the sister city relationship, has asked the Twin Cities to contribute toward water filtration systems and generators to power them. About $45,000 has been raised so far, enough to supply 64 schools and a teaching hospital, serving at least 27,000 students.

That’s an accomplishment that goes well beyond the reciprocal visits and gift-giving that mark many sister city relationships.

Minneapolis’ longest-lived sister relationship, dating to 1961, is with Santiago, Chile. That link had grown moribund until an earthquake struck there in 2010, prompting a revival as aid was sent.

Najaf is about 100 miles south of Baghdad and has a population of more than 500,000, making it larger than Minneapolis. It is considered the third-leading pilgrimage site for Muslims because of the burial site for the imam Ali, whom Shiites consider the rightful successor to the prophet Mohammed.

Why has water filtration been a major focus for IARP?

“It’s a basic need,” said Luke Wilcox , an IARP staffer just back from five weeks in Iraq.

“A lot of people can identify with it, especially here in Minnesota where water is abundant. It’s the Land of 10,000 Lakes and Minneapolis is the City of Lakes.” Plus, it’s a critical health issue, Wilcox said. Lack of clean water contributes to the deaths of young children from such conditions as typhoid and dysentery.

The water filters come in three sizes, from one costing $250 that supplies 50 gallons per day and can serve up to 200 students to one that supplies 200 gallons daily for up to 800 students and costs $1,000. Each needs a $250 generator because the area’s power supply is irregular.

Clean water once was plentiful in Najaf, Wilcox reports, but the city was battered first by the Iran-Iraq war, then the bombing during the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War. International sanctions made it hard to obtain chlorine. People who tried to rebuild infrastructure were targeted by militants. Iraqis also told him that government corruption has undercut rebuilding efforts.

The money to install generators has come from individuals and from students or others at places such as Minneapolis Community and Technical College, a sixth-grade class at the Global Academy in Columbia Heights, the Minneapolis Society of Friends, St. Martin’s Table, First Unitarian Society and the University of Minnesota.

Wilcox went to Iraq armed with nothing more than the sister city relationship and the help of Sami Rasouli , an Iraqi who spends time both there and here. Rasouli is the Iraqi founder of Muslim Peacemaker Teams that focus on peace and self-sufficiency work in Najaf.

While Najafians have visited Minneapolis, local elected officials have yet to travel there as part of the exchanges that mark sisterhood among cities.

Council Member Betsy Hodges, who fostered the establishment of the Najaf relationship, couldn’t be reached on whether she’ll join in a 2012 visit to Najaf that IARP hopes to organize.

via ‘Sisterhood’ helps Iraqi city get clean water | StarTribune.com.

Day One:  Anna Kaminski in Iraq  § August 1, 2011 at 5:06am

Posted by Sami Rasouli on Monday (Sunday for us)

Waking up sticky and sweaty with little 7 year old Mohammed’s arm sprawled across my face and the distant sound of livestock was the moment I actually realized this isn’t a dream. I am in Iraq and I am here for the 22 days.

Yesterday was a whirlwind. Leaving Muscat and leaving the people who have become my family over the past two months hit me at 6 AM. I realized then that I would no longer be woken up to the sound of my roommate’s show tunes or the overzealous bang of pots and pans as yet another roommate makes her usual pancakes to start her day. I  am going to miss them dearly. The Critical Language Scholarship in Oman was amazing but now my time in Oman has never felt so far away.

 I am in Iraq now and must switch from the role of a student in a classroom to the role of student in life setting. I have always preferred to learn through experience and it is apparent now on my first day what an experience Iraq is going  to be.  The moment the plane landed at the Najaf airport I realized I had finally made it. After nearly missing my flight in Sharjah because of a short delay in Muscat I was ready to be on solid ground wherever that ground may be.

The woman I sat next to on the plane calmed my nerves when she spoke to me in both English and Arabic and assured me that I would love Najaf. We talked the whole plane ride and I will have Dinner with her and her family sometime soon. She was welcoming and was the first glimpse of the hospitality that I would soon realize identifies every person I would come in contact with.

 After getting off the plane I was silently mentally preparing myself to buy my Visa, meet Sami, and go to Sami’s home. Sami is the Director of the NGO “The Muslim Peacemaker Team.” However,  when I walked in the door Sami wasn’t there. Despite this, about seven other people were waiting eagerly. They called my name and shook my hand as if I was an incoming diplomat or celebrity which seemed to cause confusion about my arrival to getting off the plane. Those waiting for me  were told to look for a redhead, but I was wearing a Hijab which caused a laugh because my black Hijab made me blend into the crowd despite the few red strands of red hair fighting their way out.  

 The presence of  unarmed Americans is a rarity in Iraq and I feel lucky to be able to truly interact with people on their level rather than something than be someone that is feared or perceived as exploitative as the US military is widely perceived.  I was ushered into the visa office in the heat of the unairconditioned airport with electricity that flickered on and off. we waited for two hours for my visa approval so the electricity would turn on and my application could be processed with the computer system. All electricity is run on generators that aren’t reliable even in a place like the airport. 

When I think about the lack of power here and then about the fact that the US spends millions of Tax dollars to air condition all miltary bases using what little power there is, I become angered by the lack of humility that the US government has. All neighborhoods in Iraq are run on privately owned generators that often fail or are unreliable to begin with. Electricity also determines running water. Therefore neigborhoods like Sami’s whose  local generator has burned out are left with no running water or electricity.

Unfortunately, what potential there is for solid infrastructure has been decimated by the American influenced International Policy. Sami arrived after waiting in line at one of the only two gas stations in Najaf. There are usually lines that can be up to a mile long as people wait patiently to fill up their cars. I was so relieved to see him. Sami has a warm smile and it is comforting just to be around him because of his emulating kindness.  

He informed me that the class I was going to teach has been canceled and now I am brainstorming about how to make a difference in my time here and what I can do to help even in a small way. He assured me that we will travel and perhaps we can think something to do here or start working on ideas to carry back with me to the States and begin a fundraising campaign. I feel lucky to have met a new friend Hiba, whose family I am staying with for the first week of my trip.  Hiba is a beautiful person and her kindness is unlike any  I have experienced. Her two children have been welcoming and I can already tell that they will become like family.   

After taking a short rest and eating dinner with Hiba and her family we went to meet Sami’s wife and family and then walked by the Euphrates River . As we walked Sami told me about literacy in Najaf and that 72 percent of people here are illiterate. He  showed me the river and explained water shortages and how the dams that Turkey and Syria have built have depleted the water supply in Iraq. Water is more expensive than oil here – and oil is not widely available either, despite the fact that Iraq has the 2nd highest amount of reserves in the world.

Sami is also very protective of what I eat and drink because he knows that there there is no safety net here and that it is easy to become sick. There are not only problems like the 2000 Metric tons of depleted uranium kindly left behind by the US military but there are also problems in in mere sanitary conditions for food products because of water contamination. Birth Defects and Cancer are greatly on the rise as compared to to 40 years ago where Iraq had one of the highest ranking medical systems in the world.   

 After we walked for a bit we rested with a small group of people in a local garden restaurant. I discussed mostly media in broken Arabic and talked about the recent events in Norway and the poor reporting of news networks like fox news and it’s reinforcement of stereotypes  and xenophobia before facts were available. A new friend made the point that people in the word do not seem to care and used the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids as an example. He claimed that “everybody cares about the Eiffel tower and the Pyramids but they never care about the people that have created such beautiful things.” 

I see the the world in the same way. We care about the world on some level or or appreciate it but we lack in appreciating all the people that are working to make this great planet spin on it’s axis. People in in all countries of all religions, and of all nationalities alike are maintaining the world that we live in by their movements. Each person’s day is a journey and we are making the world spin with all of our actions and our daily only seemingly mundane decisions.  

We are human and we all have the power to feel empathy for the suffering of others. The ability to feel empathy is the greatest gift and it is something we all possess.  When viewed as such we can use this gift to fight for a better world.

 After this discussion we said our goodbyes for the night and returned home. Hiba’s home is humble and filled with love.  Last night herself, her two children, and myself slept together in the one room with airconditioning and as I was going to sleep my broken Arabic ability understood that her two children were fighting over who got to sleep next to me. It was by far the best way to fall asleep in by far the best place I have ever been.  This is what I already know.   

I hope to write more soon,
all my wishes,
Anna Kaminski
Najaf, Iraq

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By Published On: August 13th, 2011Comments Off on ‘Sisterhood’ helps Iraqi city get clean water & Day One: Anna in Najaf

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