STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 12/21/2009
Amelia Reese Masterson '07
Amelia Reese is program director for A Plate for All, which she and colleagues founded a year ago to address gaps in food aid to Iraqi refugees in Syria.
Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, 4.4 million Iraqis have been displaced; 1.4 million have settled in Syria. Food prices and rent are rising; work is illegal and mobility is extremely limited. Family savings and assets are exhausted and people are hungry and desperate.
A Plate for All fills critical gaps in humanitarian aid. My study of international politics at Gordon provided a framework for examining policy issues around the world. On April 6 our team in Syria—Bridgette Auger, Mary Shehadeh (the accountant for the Greek Orthodox Patriarcheate of Antioch, our partner organization), Brian Lowe (our most steadfast volunteer supporter) and I—left Damascus and headed east through the desert and across the Euphrates River to Hassakeh City.
We chose to operate in Hassakeh because unique hardships face Iraqi refugees there. Though it is primarily a farming province supported largely by wheat crops, a two-year drought has driven up food prices and made it difficult for neighbors or churches to support those in need. According to the refugee community there, next to housing, food is the most pressing need. When refugees have food and housing, they are more likely to send their children to school and maintain good health—important factors in the region’s future stability.
When we arrived in Hassakeh we were greeted by a kindhearted Syrian man named Afram, known at the Syrian Orthodox Church as “the godfather of Iraqi refugees” for his commitment to humanitarian work. Afram guided us to the first distribution site, where 200 Iraqis were waiting to receive food.
One of the most rewarding aspects of A Plate for All is meeting and talking with Iraqis. Throughout both distributions that day—one assisting 225 families in Hassakeh and another helping 125 families in Qamishli—the Iraqis were eager to tell us about their lives and situation in Hassakeh. They told stories about kidnapping, lost loved ones, torture, and the hardships they face in Syria. I love that the size of our organization allows us to actually do something tangible about the needs these Iraqis voiced.
One woman’s story stood out: Sara was a food researcher who lived in Baghdad with her husband, Yusef and their three children. In late 2007 Yusef was kidnapped by an insurgent group, which demanded a ransom of $60,000, forcing Sara to sell the family’s possessions. He was released on penalty of death should the kidnappers see him again. A few months ago, with no work or resettlement options in sight, Yusef smuggled himself into Sweden in hopes of being accepted there as an asylum case. Uncertain of what the future may hold, Sara hopes she will one day find peace for her family, but all she can do now is struggle to provide food, education and shelter for her children.
Each encounter has helped me see a little more clearly what their lives are like. I am saddened to hear the same tragic stories over and over but impressed by their resilience.
For more information about how you can help, visit our website, www.aplateforall.org.