The year I spent with the Iraq project

[Ghamra RIFAI, Iraq Project (March 28, 2019)]

Participants in the Iraq Café prepare date balls.

It is already March, and everybody is so busy trying to finalize the details of next year’s plan. While everybody is so busy closing up the fiscal year, I want to take a moment to reflect on this year that I have spent with the JVC Iraq project as a project officer.

I arrived at JVC fresh out of engineering school and I had no idea how to run a project. I only had a lot of dreams and determination to create change.

The year was started by a big jumble of preparing reports and applications for funds, and despite the 2018 FY being a very tight year financially, the support we had from our donors made, what otherwise could have been a very dark year, a year full of warmth and motivation.

At the beginning of my work in JVC I couldn’t write an email on my own, and I couldn’t pick up the phone, I felt so inadequate to meet donors and make connections, I had too little faith in my Japanese language skills. However, as time passed and with the support of my colleagues and bosses, I was able to have conversations on my own, respond to emails right away, and recently I even started picking up the phone on my own.

Summer was a hectic time; Peace Yard was up and running with more than 70 children in Iraq. I was trying to share as many photos and impressions from the beautiful Iraqi children while coordinating with the staff of our partner NGO, INSAN, to run the project smoothly. During the 2 months of Peace Yard, I was able to have Skype conversations with staff members and with children and covered the details of the program as much as possible considering the time difference and the distance between Iraq and Japan.

With the support of Ms. Nakano, the assistant officer of the Iraq project, I got used to doing my work by the second half of the year, and the fun part started. Starting from September, the Iraq project has continually launched a large number of events to introduce Iraq as a beautiful country, not just a war field.

We gave speeches in a symposium held at Sophia University last November.

Due to the financial tightness that we suffered from, we could invite only one member of INSAN, Mr. Aree. Still, we made the best out of it and during the two weeks he spent in Tokyo we held two nonviolence-training workshops, the Iraq Café twice, and a cooking event in Toyama. We also attended a symposium in cooperation with Sophia University and had many reporting sessions. For two weeks I spent more time with Mr. Aree than I spend with my family, we went to many places in Japan, and we bonded over our love for Iraq and our desire to create a better reality for people who have been suffering from wars and emergencies since the Iraq-Iran War in the 80s. It has been such a long time since the Iraqi people had a peaceful lifestyle to the point that an emergency has become the norm for them.

Right after Mr. Aree went back to Iraq, we held an Arabic music concert to introduce the Arab culture far from the scary image that seems to be prevalent in mass media.

During this one year I was able to talk to many young school students and university students about the Middle East, its culture, and international cooperation. I was given many precious chances to speak to young minds and help answer their questions as a Middle Eastern person.

Did I create change? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure what kind of change I have achieved if I achieved anything.

What I know is I spent an entire year trying to use every skill I have and every experience I have been through to support Iraqi children to help them be who they are and to accept one another despite all the prejudice that surrounds them everywhere. I did everything in my power to change the image of the Middle East in Japan and to create a space in which people can think about each other without prejudice and preconceived ideas, I tried to answer every question I was asked as objectively and sincerely as I can.

One year with JVC was a fantastic experience and I’m so happy to be able to continue living as a part of the JVC team through the 2019 FY, I did many things, learned so many things, and I have many regrets and mistakes that I have to work through in the coming years.

And the most significant motivation that keeps me going is the amazing encouragement that I received from the Iraq project supporters. Whether you are an individual supporter or part of a larger organization, I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude. And to inform you that you have given me motivation and guidance and gave our team inspiration and reassurance that what we are doing is real, and it is essential and that we need to continue no matter what stands in our way.

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