Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Vision of Peace

You've probably heard a lot about the Iraq war. But you've probably never heard of 8-year-old Rasool, who lost his father, his home and his eyesight to the war. He and his mother are among hundreds of thousands of families who represent the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world and one of today's most under-reported stories. The mainstream media does not tell their stories. But AFSC does.

Two years ago, Rasool implored his mother to let him leave their Baghdad home for a quick trip to a nearby store for some candy. After resisting his pleas, she finally relented, figuring that a decline in violence in their neighborhood made such a short trip safe.

Instead, Rasool walked into a firefight. A bullet struck him in the head, leaving him blind in one eye and with severely reduced vision in the other. There was no hospital for his mother to take him to; instead, she brought her wounded son home.

Last year, AFSC St. Louis hosted Noah Merrill, a journalist and expert on the Iraq refugee crisis. His analysis and firsthand experience brought a coherent sense of the big picture as well as the human faces of this crisis. Noah told stories about some of the millions of Iraqi refugees displaced inside Iraq and living in neighboring countries. He told us about Rasool.

Rasool's mother did all she could to seek medical care for her son, making three risky and expensive trips to Jordan to seek help. But she couldn't afford the cost of care.

Noah's story about Rasool moved me deeply. Here was a cute kid with a shy little face and ears sticking out. Last year, Rasool's father was missing, and the only thing keeping his mom going was the hope that Rasool's vision could be brought back.

I contacted the local chapter of Healing the Children, a nonprofit organization which helps children from around the world receive the medical care they need. HTC's director, Kathy Corbett, agreed to do all she could to help Rasool. I relayed the happy news to Noah.

But when Noah called Rasool's mom to tell her, he learned that Rasool's father had been found dead. As Kathy Corbett told Sylvester Brown of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "It was devastating. A child and mother with so much pain, now had even more pain. It made me even more determined to help this family."

And so, as a direct result of Noah's visit and the generosity he engendered, Rasool will travel in June to receive eye surgery at St. Louis Children's Hospital. AFSC and HTC are trying to find a host family for him and his mom. Their stay here could last several months.

I hope to meet Rasool and his mom when they come to St. Louis. I want to embrace Rasool and let his mother know that she is not alone in her struggle for her family. I want her to know we all share a restored vision of peace.

By Lori Reed, St. Louis International Affairs Program Director

[Ed note: Rasool has arrived in St. Louis and is receiving preliminary tests for surgery]

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To see the full article with pictures, look at the newsletter below – page 6.

A Vision of Peace
By Lori Reed, St. Louis International Affairs Program Director
Central Region News and Views – Summer 2008

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