• June 22, 2018
  • Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)
  • No comments
When I left Iraq in 2005 to study in the USA and later in the UK, I always dreamt that one day I would return home permanently to my country, despite it being a place where war and instability are almost ever-present. 

Though I am still waiting for that dream to become a reality, I have finally managed to return, if only very briefly, after many years. I visited the southern city of Basra to volunteer at the mobile health clinic that has been set up by a UK-based charity. 

It was an early morning in Basra when my brother – also a doctor working for the charity, AMAR International - and I went to join the rest of the staff of the mobile clinic which operates across the oil-rich Rumaila district. 

The “clinic” is simply a converted van that is equipped with basic medical equipment, vaccines and drugs to provide the most needed healthcare to displaced families and children whose circumstances have forced them to live in extraordinary and poor situations. 

The weather was beautiful, typical April weather in Basra. The mobile health clinic parked next to a mosque. The staff nurse used the loud speaker to announce its arrival. By late morning, people started to come, mainly children and women. I saw children with chest infection, fever, and skin rash. 

A child presented with severe dehydration and diarrhoea and needed fluid replacement and referral to the nearby hospital. Several children came to the clinic to get their scheduled vaccination as the nearest primary health centre is too far to reach without transport. 

Patients come to check their blood pressure, blood sugar or to collect antibiotics. They recognised me as a new staff member, and immediately realised that I had come from the UK. Iraqis are among the most generous people I have ever met. 

Despite their poor circumstances, they were quick to invite me to their houses and offered to host me for lunch. I gently apologised, not wanting to eat food they could barely afford, and explained that I had other commitments that day. 

From the windows of the van, I could see piles of rubbish and puddles of stagnant dirty water. Despite the massive oil wealth in Basra, many people still don’t have the basic human needs such as clean water, electricity and a proper sewage system, particularly compared to those of many other oil rich countries in the region. 

Due to the continuous instability, things have barely changed since I left Iraq. Looking back at my childhood, I don’t think I will be able to forget the time when I grew up in Iraq. I was born in the year when the terrible war between Iraq and Iran broke out. 

After that, I grew up having to deal with the instability, fear and uncertainty of that long conflict and then the Gulf wars that followed. Even now, I can still hear the air-raid and then the blessed relief of the all-clear. 

I came face-to-face with death when our house was partly demolished by rocket when I was eight years old. The sound and impact were unbelievable. We had to relocate several times over the years to avoid the areas of conflict. 

Back in Basra, I met a child who was selling sweets and cigarettes to make his living and support his family. I asked him why he was not in school. He told me, with all his childhood innocence, that his dad was ill and he had to work to support the family. 

However, he said he was very keen to go back to school and he would like to be a doctor one day. What he said made me cry. Tears of sympathy, sadness and frustration. The boy’s determination reminded me of the days when I was his age. He could have been me 30 years ago! 

I shared with him my story which made him smile despite all the horrible circumstances he had to deal with. Soon afterwards, a group of other children joined us and they were chatting to me, laughing and sharing their life stories. 

I suddenly felt euphoric to be back and working as a doctor in Iraq. Although my trip was for just a few days, I felt at least I was paying my debts to this great country. For the last 26 years, AMAR International has been doing great work in Iraq and particularity in my home town, Basra. 

Unlike ordinary charities, AMAR has led and facilitated the development of several projects to promote school education, emergency aid, health services and infrastructure. I was very impressed by not only the challenges that the staff of AMAR ICF must face but by their dedication while working tirelessly to help everyone. 

Of course, there is still a huge amount of work to be done, and Iraqis need all the help they can get. I am very much looking forward to my next visit and I hope that, one day, my dream of a prosperous and safe Iraq becomes a reality. 

Dr Laith Al Rubaiy is a Gastroenterology and Hepatology specialist doctor at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff


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