Direct Aid Iraq — Gratitude and News

Dear Friends,

It is with profound sadness and deep gratitude that we write to tell you that Direct Aid Iraq will cease its aid and advocacy work as of December 31, 2009. After Noah Baker Merrill and David Smith-Ferri returned from the Middle East in April with a mandate from our Iraqi colleagues to continue working in Jordan and to expand DAI’s work into Iraq, we asked you for support, and many of you responded generously. But despite this, and despite our best efforts, it has become increasingly clear over the last six months that we do not now have the capacity – human or financial – to responsibly and effectively continue to deliver aid to Iraqis in the Middle East at this time.

The effort we have called Direct Aid Iraq began in early 2007 in response to the Iraqi displacement crisis, at a time when Noah and Natalie Baker Merrill were in the Middle East reporting on the dire and worsening situation for Iraqis as a result of the US invasion and subsequent chaos. The effort to educate Americans and to bring the voices and perspectives of Iraqis into our discourse about the war led naturally to a recognition of a responsibility and opportunity to support Iraqis who were trying to rebuild their lives. From the start, this effort was built on relationships with strong, capable, and dedicated Iraqi partners, a team led by Najlaa Al-Nashi. To Omar, Mazen, Ghada, Yasir, Suad, Ali, Ahmed, Haider and Wasan among so many others, we express our profound gratitude. This was a group of gifted, compassionate and determined people that anyone would be privileged and grateful to work with, and they led the work. The American team, in a support role, engaged in education and advocacy here in the US. It was a model that formed naturally and it worked. It’s a model we still believe in.

In three years, DAI provided lifesaving medical care, material aid, and crucial advocacy to more than 450 displaced Iraqis. We facilitated the production of three documentary films, four photo essays, and advised the creation or refocusing of more than a dozen other aid and advocacy projects. The stories and voices of those we served were featured in print, radio, and television media throughout the USA, as well as in Jordan. We spoke at demonstrations, offered classes and trainings, and advised academic research. We linked activists and journalists with Iraqi civil society. We brought people together in solidarity. You, who are reading this message, were an essential part of this.

When we talked with her about the need to bring an end to this shared effort, Kathy Kelly, who has been a faithful friend, supporter, and mentor to us since the beginning, wrote these words:

Direct Aid Iraq, throughout its tenure as a humanitarian NGO, held up a mirror to U.S. people, calling us to see our collective responsibility for devastating Iraq. Through narration, poetry, and film, through travel, conferences, and appeal — always undertaken humbly, yet passionately — Direct Aid Iraq sought restitution to Iraqis for the unbearable suffering that U.S. war and occupation has caused. The group succeeded in building people-to-people ties between Iraq and the U.S. Guided by these relationships, they directed assistance to various Iraqi individuals whose needs might, otherwise, have gone unmet. Lives were saved. Hopes were kindled. I feel indebted to each of the people who, through Direct Aid Iraq, beckoned us to look in the mirror and see our warlike culture while reaching for a better world, a world at peace.

But as the amazing Iraqi members of our team, all of whom were themselves refugees, began to be resettled to other countries, their loss was felt deeply. They remain involved in our work, and our friendships endure. Over time, however, in an operational context where personal trust and networks are essential, several of our colleagues’ physical presence on the ground in the Middle East proved irreplaceable. In the US, DAI faced other challenges, as the lives and needs of staff members changed. While our visibility and workload increased, the hands available to carry the weight of this work on a day-to-day basis grew fewer. In May, recognizing that DAI needed full-time coordination here in the US to carry us to a more effective and sustainable level, DAI made an appeal to raise the funds needed to support this. Despite your generosity, we did not fully meet our goal.

During the last six months, while continuing to operate at a reduced capacity in Jordan and the United States, we have spent many hours thinking, planning, and consulting with friends and supporters, trying to find a way to continue the work and to reach further into Iraq by identifying partners with whom DAI could join. We conceived a new model involving regular travel to Iraq, developing relationships with Iraqis and with Iraqi civil society organizations, reporting from the region, and supporting Iraqis who are trying to rebuild their country and their lives. We remain convinced that there is a great need for this.

But in the end, we have had to face two difficult realities. First, delivering aid is an extremely expensive undertaking, and resources are more limited at this time than at any point since our work began. DAI was able to manage in Jordan on a small budget largely because we had so little overhead. That is no longer the case. Second, without a full-time coordinator who can devote his or her time to the effort, DAI simply doesn’t have the capacity to build a program from the ground up in Iraq at this time. We have many good relationships inside Iraq, but sustaining relationships is one thing, and delivering aid effectively and accountably is another.

Over the last three years of DAI’s operations, we have tried to be faithful to your trust and commitment and to live up to the responsibilities that come with it. We are, as we have always been, deeply grateful for that support and for your friendship. As we resolve our financial commitments and close DAI’s financial books, any remaining funds we have received will be directed to other non-profit efforts providing direct aid to Iraqis.

We wish that we were closing DAI because there is no longer a need, because Iraqis have finally inherited the peace they deserve. But as you know, despite Iraq’s near-invisibility in the media and the public consciousness, the needs of Iraqis both inside and outside Iraq continue. Each of us remains committed to this greater work and open to the possibility of working together again. For now we will each contribute in our own ways to efforts to keep Iraq in the public consciousness, to build and sustain relationships of solidarity between Iraqis and Americans, and to support a future of peace for all of Iraq’s people. We know that in doing this, we will not be alone, but will be accompa- nied by many of you who share the principles on which DAI’s work has been based.

With each of you, as Americans and Iraqis who work and hope and pray for a future of peace, one path has ended for us, but the journey we share continues.

We will keep you informed as we see opportunities for shared peace-building efforts arise, and hope you will consider supporting such work in the future.

We also urge you to continue in your own work, whether on a small or large scale, to remember Iraq as an urgent concern, and to refuse to forget the relationship we two peoples share. To this end, we encourage you to support the ongoing work of organizations at the bottom of this website.

For now, we wish you and your loved ones well, in this season and always, and we remain,

Your friends,

Najlaa Al-Nashi – Perth, Australia

Noah Baker Merrill – Brattleboro, VT

Benjamin Keane – Chicago, IL

David Smith-Ferri – Ukiah, CA

We Encourage You to Support

The following organizations continue to do critical aid, advocacy and activism work.

Please support their efforts.

Voices for Creative Nonviolence
www.vcnv.org

While not a 501(c)(3) non-profit, the work of Voices’ members has been at the heart of efforts toward peace and justice for Iraq for two decades.

Palestine Children’s Relief Fund
www.pcrf.net (designate donation for Iraq)

PCRF provides medical care to children, including Iraqis, in the Middle East. DAI partnered with PCRF to provide high-quality medical care on several occasions.

International Rescue Committee
www.theirc.org (designate donation for Iraq)

IRC is large, well-resourced organization that supports the needs of Iraqis in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as supporting and advocating for the rights of Iraqis resettled to the USA.

Refugees International
www.refugeesinternational.org (designate donation for Iraq/ Iraqi refugees)

Advocacy group that has been a leading voice in Washington for policy change in support of the needs of Iraqis for several years. While they don’t deliver aid, their work has been crucial.

Contact

info[at]directaidiraq.org

MECCS/ Direct Aid Iraq
P.O. Box 382425
Cambridge, MA 02238