Empowering 80 people with disabilities in Iraq

by Operation Mercy
Empowering 80 people with disabilities in Iraq
Over the past few years with surgical teams coming, we have noticed that there is a high rate of hip dysplasia here among the people with whom we work. To start countering this, in January, we started a new project teaching Syrian refugees and Yezidis new moms and pregnant mothers a more widely recommended way of swaddling their babies. Here, the women wrap their newborns with a swaddling blanket tightly so that the babies cannot move any appendage and their hips and legs are in a straight position. They then reinforce this by firmly tying a string or cord around the baby from torso to ankle! Some then tie the baby to a board to ensure the infant cannot move in the slightest. This type of extremely tight swaddling with legs outstretched and straight is a high risk factor for developing hip dysplasia.

The goal of this new project is to teach the basic technique of swaddling and encourage mothers, mother-in-laws, grandmothers, sisters etc., in how to care for a baby and prevent hip dysplasia. We started by obtaining a list of the pregnant mothers from camp management, and then two from our local staff visited each woman to offer a free training on baby swaddling. The nurse practitioner working with Operation Mercy teaches every other week to a group of women along with two of our local staff. The training consists of explaining hip dysplasia, prevention, how to swaddle and carry in order to prevent hip dysplasia or hip dislocation and then the mothers all demonstrate swaddling on dolls or their own babies, as pictured below. On the opposite weeks, they then do home visits to each mother who attended the training for follow-up, help with reinforcement of swaddling technique and to answer any questions the mothers may have. 

Even after the first training, the Operation Mercy staff walked into one of the mother's houses and found her newborn asleep in the middle of room. The first thing they noticed was that the baby was wrapped perfectly! The mother then gushed about how much she had learned at the training and how she was telling all of her friends about how to swaddle so as to prevent the risk and rate of hip dysplasia. So far there has been a 90% rate of correct swaddling when visiting the mothers, unannounced, for follow-up!

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Making cookies with walnuts and dates
Making cookies with walnuts and dates

We received funds from GlobalGiving for a second distribution in December 2020. Due to Covid-19 many families are struggling financially. We provided 54 families with a food and hygiene kit and tied it to a Yezidi holiday in December. They traditionally make cookies with dates and walnuts which are served to their guests. With the food delivered we made sure we provided the necessary flour, dates and walnuts. Families were very grateful for the kits provided and specifically for the dates and walnuts; one family right started making the traditional cookies right away.

A family tragically had their 14 year old son die a month before the distribution. The family situation is even harder as the father has abandoned their family of 9. For this single mother with many young children her survival often depends on the generosity of others in the community. For this family the distribution of food and cleaning supplies will help to sustain the family as they grieve this tragedy. Another family ran out of money to buy cleaning supplies on the morning we delivered the package with cleaning supplies. They were very grateful for the supplies handed out to them.

Giving out the food and hygiene kits
Giving out the food and hygiene kits
Giving out the food and hygiene kits
Giving out the food and hygiene kits
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Due to Covid-19 we were not able to continue our project and had to put it on hold for several months. Recently restrictions have been eased in the Kurdish Region of Iraq and we relaunched our project. We received extra funds from GlobalGiving and the first thing we did was providing the families we serve a food and hygiene kit as a Covid-19 response. We were able to provide kits for 65 families spread over 7 camps. The packages differed in size tailored to the number of family members and based on the family's income. We asked how each client has been doing and we were able to hear their stories and encourage them.

For many this season has been difficult as their income has decreased. Some families work in the fields and because of lockdowns were not able to sell their crop for a good price. Others could not work at all during lockdowns or lost their jobs. One family had hardly any food left and finished their last rice a few days before we came. Imagine the joy of this family when they received 20 kilos of rice plus other food items.

Now it's time to continue our physical therapy program. Unfortunately due to Covid-19 we cannot start our peergroups bringing different clients and their families together. However, we can visit them apart from each other in their homes and work on their physical improvement and bring encouragement. It has been encouraging to see that some clients have improved quite a bit physically since the last time we met. We'll continue to come along side working for better integration into their community.

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Like many international NGOs, we were told to temporarily halt our operations and projects in mid-March due to government restrictions. Every camp was closed to the public and all NGOs with only governmental aid were allowed to enter. Our office staff continued to work from home and secure funding for distributions for when we were allowed to enter once again. After gaining permission from the assistant governor of the region, we were able to visit and give food and hygiene products to 65 families spread out in seven camps last week!

These families are ones that we have been visiting weekly or twice weekly for the past several months or even years. We were able to put together a $50 packet of food staples and cleaning products for each family and then go to their houses to gift them with these essentials while maintaining a safe distance. Despite taking extra precautions and needing to wear masks and gloves throughout the hot days, our staff and clients were overjoyed to be reunited even for a few minutes! We asked how each client has been doing and we were able to hear their stories and encourage them and let them know they are not forgotten.

One young mother has been unable to leave her house as she has five children under the age of ten. Her husband had suffered an accident prior to this time and had only been able to do light daily work to provide for his family. After the restrictions were put in place due to COVID-19, he was unable to work at all because of this inability to find light work inside the camp. They were out of many necessary household and food items and were so thankful to receive the distribution gift and to see us once again.

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Hala is 18 years old and has been living in a Yazidi, Internally Displaced Peoples camp, since ISIS came to her village in the Sinjar region five years ago. When we first met her over a year ago, she never smiled, had no friends and had no hope in life. She would not leave her home because of her physical disability of severe bilateral clubfoot. Both feet were at a 90 degree angle pointed inwardly since birth. Despite spending all her time at home, her relationship with her family was strained. In January 2019 she underwent corrective surgery with one of our partner NGOs and had an amazing outcome of a straightened foot. We helped care for her in the hospital and back at her home with both nursing care and physical therapy. She then had surgery on her left foot in October 2019 with her cast removal just over a month ago. She now has two straight feet and is re-learning how to ambulate but is slowly walking as other young women her age!

Over the past year of working with Hala, not only has she changed physically, but also mentally and emotionally. We have really tried to instill in her how valuable she is no matter what her feet look like. She smiles now, laughs, and has started loving herself. She has friends and leaves her house to hang out with them. Her relationship with her family is also better. Just in the past few weeks she has joined one of our peer groups of young women her age with similar physical disabilities and said she really enjoyed it! She previously had not wanted to participate in a group but now says she looks forward to it. We have seen her transform from a shy and insecure girl to a vibrant, young woman.

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Organization Information

Operation Mercy

Location: Orebro - Sweden
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Maarten de Wolf
Orebro, Sweden
$10,316 raised of $60,000 goal
32 donations
$49,684 to go
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