The following interview was conducted by Hussein Al-alak, editor of Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra), with Laura Puddefoot-Knaggs, who is the head of fundraising for the London based AMAR Foundation.
As Laura explains in this interview, AMAR have been working in the Middle East since 1991 and by employing local people to oversee their aid projects, AMAR are able to provide essential services to people on a local level.
For most Iraqi's, the AMAR Foundation is known through the work of Baroness Emma Nicholson, who has worked on building the charity since 1991. What this interview provides, is a unique insight into the many outstanding roles and services, which this remarkable British charity provides to the people of Iraq.
Can you please tell us about the AMAR Foundation and your role with the charity?
AMAR has been working in the Middle East since 1991, helping communities who have been impacted by conflict and natural disaster. Since 1991 we have grown enormously, and today we provide emergency aid, healthcare and education to some of the region’s most vulnerable populations.
We mostly work in Iraq, but we also have projects in Lebanon – including a large drugs awareness campaign. In 2014, our work won a charity award for international aid and development, and in the last month, we were thrilled to be nominated for a Charity Times Award! As AMAR’s Head of Fundraising, I oversee AMAR’s fundraising team and voluntary fundraising committees.
Every day, I work with individuals and community groups around the world, helping them to raise awareness and funds in support of our work. As a small organisation working in complex environments, we are always looking for opportunities to raise our profile and gather support for the important work we do.
Every pound makes a huge difference to our work – and even just sharing our posts on social media can help.
Can you please tell us about the team who drive AMAR’s daily efforts to support the people of Iraq?
AMAR’s team is made up of a combination of paid staff and volunteers. In Iraq, we work with more than 1,000 local doctors, nurses, medical professionals, engineers, teachers and administrators – and this is what makes AMAR so special.
By employing local staff, not only do we ensure that all of our work is culturally sensitive and relevant to community needs, but it also allows local talent to be developed and to prosper. Here in London, we are a small team of 15 providing oversight for our work in Iraq and Lebanon.
We also have some amazing voluntary fundraising committees in London, Dubai, Lebanon and in various locations in the United States.
As a team effort, can you please give us some examples of AMAR fundraising efforts that people undertake, to help develop the educational, health and social projects in Iraq?
Without our supporters, we simply would not be where we are today. Their efforts have been absolutely incredible. They’ve organised bridge nights, supper clubs, salsa nights, bake sales, tennis tournaments, poetry slams and fashion sales, and many have taken on tough challenge events, pushing themselves to the limits to raise money for our work.
As an example of how your money helps - just £10 would deliver 24 doctor consultations, or would enable our staff to administer 125 vaccinations to displaced Iraqis. This weekend we actually had two women taking part in an Olympic-length triathlon in aid of our Escaping Darkness appeal. And it’s often a case of individuals coming together and forming amazing teams.
In Henley, for example, an incredible group of women have organised a series of events, raising over £45,000 for our Escaping Darkness appeal!
How can people who are concerned by the situation in Iraq, get involved with supporting the work of the AMAR Foundation?
There’s so much you can do! All too often the ongoing conflict in Iraq falls off the international media’s radar. So simply sharing our social media content and using our hashtags is invaluable in helping us spread awareness about the crisis in Iraq, and how AMAR can help address the situation.
We also always encourage people to sign up to our newsletter so that they can stay up to date on what we’ve been working on and to share our stories with their friends and relatives.
Meanwhile, we regularly organise events such as Iraqi supper clubs and concerts which are always great fun, and our annual gala dinner is always a wonderful evening for our supporters to come together and celebrate AMAR’s achievements. You can also find information about our events on our social media channels.
And if you’re feeling creative or up for a challenge, you can always organise your own fundraising event! Whatever you choose to organise, I’m always available to lend a supporting hand so do drop me a line!
With AMAR running facilities relating to health inside of Iraq, can you please tell us about some of the physical and psychological disabilities which your staff encounter?
As war continues in Iraq, the number of civilians either directly targeted or caught in the crossfire continues to rise. In July alone, over 1,200 were injured. Our staff frequently come across men, women and children who have sustained life-altering injuries.
Take Zeynab for example, who lost both her legs when ISIS attacked her family’s home in Tal Afar in 2014. Her mother was killed in the attack, whilst both of her sisters were also badly injured. Sadly, Zeynab is just one amongst thousands of Iraqis whose lives have been turned upside down by violence.
The conflict is also placing a huge toll on the mental health of Iraq’s citizens, and our doctors have reported a sharp increase in psychological disorders. Many adults and children are suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), rates of anxiety and depression are rising, and the numbers attempting suicide have also increased.
Unfortunately, Iraq’s mental health services are severely under-equipped for dealing with this crisis. In the North of Iraq, for example, there are just 17 psychiatrists, of which just 4 are trained to work with children and adolescents.
AMAR is filling this gap in mental health support services, as well as providing long-term rehabilitative and psychological support to patients such as Zeynab.
As the slogan of the charity is “Rebuilding Lives”, how does the AMAR Foundation rebuild the lives of those who have experienced disabilities as a result of war and terrorism?
Our primary healthcare centres, mobile health clinics and women health volunteers are all working to ensure that assistance is available for anyone in need. Not only do they provide healthcare services – but they also oversee transfers for further treatment when needed, and are always on hand to provide follow-up support.
Our staff keep a close eye on those who have suffered life-altering injuries, making regular home visits to check on their wellbeing, providing them with prosthetics when needed, and helping to arrange for them to access education or training sessions. This year, we have also been providing disabled Iraqis with wheelchairs, helping them to regain their independence.
In this way, our staff are with patients every step of the way – taking care not just of their physical health, but ensuring they have the tools and resources available to them to live their lives to the full.
Meanwhile, through our Escaping Darkness appeal we are training local GPs to deliver emergency mental health services, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to help vulnerable Iraqis digest their experiences, and tackle their trauma.
The Paralympic Games are coming up this year, which was started by a refugee after WW2, with the first ever participants being disabled due to war. Do you see AMAR’s role as being part of this Paralympic legacy?
AMAR supports many disabled men, women and children in Iraq, and while our focus has to be on their immediate medical needs, AMAR always looks to the long-term with any rehabilitative care.
Our local teams work hard to not only help patients to rebuild their lives, but also to help them see past their initial expectations of living with such disabilities.
Similarly to all of our heroic Paralympians, with determination, hard work and the will to succeed, anyone can overcome their disabilities and go forward to win, whether that is in sports, education, work or any other aspect of life.
Many Paralympic athletes have experienced disabilities due to war and terror based incidents from around the world, what message would you like this give to young people in Iraq and the UK?
We’ve worked with many young Iraqis who have suffered overwhelming difficulties – including disability, trauma and poverty– and we have seen them grow, prosper and live their lives to its full potential.
As an organisation working to rebuild the lives of Iraqis, we want the young people there to have hope for their future and for the future of their country.
This is an incredibly difficult time for them and an unstable time for youth all over the world – including young generations in the UK – but with hard work, positivity, and of course with the support of organisations such as AMAR, we can be hopeful for a brighter, more peaceful future for everyone.