From London to Arbat Refugee Camp, Iraq

Last week the money donated by strangers on the internet helped deliver 210 blankets and 175kg of rice to Arbat Refugee camp, Iraq.

In July, I started a crowdfunding campaign to raise £500 to feed the displaced families in a refugee camp just outside my hometown in Iraq. Within 8 hours we had not only reached my target, we had doubled it. By the end of the 14 days, 48 of us had come together and raised £1,681.

There are about 6,000 people housed in Arbat, a permanent refugee camp just outside of Sulaymaniyah. You can read about it here. But if you look in the wider Sulaymaniyah area, there are 30,000 people who have newly settled there, as refugees, mainly from Syria. I didn’t want to ignore the refugees of Arbat. No matter how small a deed I wanted them to know that there were people out there thinking of them, thinking of ways to help. Not least because I was a refugee myself as a result of the first gulf war.

So here I was with £1,681, determined to get it back to Iraq as soon as possible and use it where it was needed. Only it turns out that sending money to Iraq is a pain in the tush. After a lot of toing and froing, and verifying myself as a person who is probably not sending money to ISIS (I’m not, honestly!), it finally got there.

By this time, it was early September. Ramadan and Eid had both passed, and with them a lot of aid had gone to the camps in the form of food. Thinking that I wanted our charity to be as useful as possible to the people we were trying to help, I asked Mustafa, my uncle and partner in crime, to identify what was needed most.

Winter was drawing nearer and the camp was low on blankets. So I asked everyone who contributed if it was ok to change what we were buying from food to blankets instead; not a single person disagreed.

So with a renewed sense of purpose, we set out on the last stretch of the task. First it was a case of buying 210 blankets and as much rice as the rest of the money would stretch to.

This was Mustafa’s job. This is the picture he sent me when he had just bought it all home.

Then it was a case of individually unpacking and repacking each blanket…

…and loading them into the pick up truck to take to Arbat.

Incidentally this is the road I spent the first year of my life on. My family still own that house. My hometown, the city you can see in these pictures, is also the second level of the video game Battlefield 3, which is equal parts hilarious and grim.

This is what 210 blankets and 175kg of rice in the back of a pickup truck looks like!

Then it was off to the camp! Ever wondered what a refugee camp actually looks like?

Seeing kids run around barefoot is not uncommon apparently.

As soon as news got around that we were giving out blankets, lots of people flocked to us.

We assured everyone who came to meet us that we’d come to their tent and give them a blanket.

It was then a case of going around and gifting blankets and rice to the families who first came to us, and also the families that were most in need, as far as we could see. Unfortunately, this is by no means the fairest way of distributing, but sadly there isn’t enough information available to be any fairer than first-come, first-served.

For every family that we gave a blanket to, we asked if could take a picture. Here are the results:

This is by no means everyone we helped, just the people who agreed to be photographed. I was utterly speechless when I saw these photos for the first time. These are the actual people we helped. These are them!

Even going through the process of organising this, I knew that it would help some far off people, but I couldn’t see them, I couldn’t imagine their faces. They were just numbers and hazy faceless outlines. Seeing these pictures made this very real for me, I hope it has for everyone who contributed too.

It also clearly shows that there is so much more work to be done. I don’t know what that work will be, but I’ve asked everyone who donated, and now I ask you, to keep your eyes and ears open for the next opportunity to do something.

In this instance, the generosity of 48 people and all the hard work of everyone in Iraq, has helped 200 families in Arbat — but millions of families have been displaced in the past few years, and whatever we can do to help them, no matter how small, is worth it.

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