It has only been a few days since the Pope Francis' four-day trip to Iraq. It was the first ever papal visit to the country, which has suffered years of armed conflict. Pope Francis expressed his support of peaceful renovation of Iraq, and he encouraged not only the persecuted community of Iraqi Christians, but also other people in Iraq to forgive one another and to live in mutual respect to all people irrespective of their religion or ethnic origin.
Caritas Czech Republic is also supporting Iraq and its people in rebuilding the country and their lives there. We especially support returning refugees in restoring their small businesses and farms. We are also part of a school feeding programme, which allows even children from poor families to attend school, and we also participate in house renovation.
We have been talking to the Caritas Czech Republic in Iraq Head of Mission Muhammed Hammady to find out, what challenges are regular Iraqi facing and how the organisation is supporting them.
Before Pope Francis´s visit to Iraq, many Iraqis felt forgotten by the world. What does the life of ordinary Iraqis look like today?
People in Iraq are trying to get over the impacts of the war, and return to simple, normal life. There is a basic condition for the restoration of the country to be permanent, though, and that is resolving long lasting religious and ethnic animosities and conflicts. The situation is still very fragile.
Many people lost hope, youngsters see no perspective in staying in the country, and they would prefer to build their lives somewhere outside Iraq. The political situation is also not ideal. There is still strong regional and international pressure, which is a breeding ground for conflict. This only adds to the general feeling of depression and hopelessness.
Do you think that the Pope´s visit can change this?
I believe so! The visit has brought new blood, the fresh overall belief that rebuilding Iraq makes sense and will be successful, is tangible. But people were trying to live as normally as possible also before the visit to ease the overall pressure and forget for a bit about all the challenges they are facing daily. So they would focus on work, spend time with friends and family, do some sports, and to a certain extend also travel. This has been made more complicated due to the coronavirus restrictions.
How is Caritas Czech Republic supporting the people in Iraq?
Many parts of the country are still very damaged by the war, in some places even basic infrastructure is missing. The situation is, however, improving relatively quickly. What is the main problem is restoring livelihoods and recreating jobs. We therefore offer people not only material support, hygiene kits and basic health care, but we also provide water supply and renovate homes. The main focus is on restoring original livelihoods, creating jobs, and reopening services.
There are surely other organisation apart from Caritas Czech Republic working in Iraq.
Of course! There is a number of international NGOs, UN agencies, but also local organisations and initiatives are supporting Iraq on their renovation.
We use financial support provided by the Czech Bishops´ Conference, Caritas France, as well as fundraisers. Further funds come from Czech institutions such as the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of International Affairs. We are also partners of several UN agencies. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN- OCHA), World Food Programme (WFP) and UN-Habitat in Iraq, who are among our biggest donors.
How did you get to work in Caritas?
I made it through a tough and long application process! When I saw this position in Caritas advertised, I knew that was it! I had heard about what Caritas does and the success achieved in other countries, and I wanted to be part of such positive change also in Iraq. So I applied, went through several rounds of interviews and tests, and in the end got the job. I am really excited I was given this opportunity and was able to enlarge the Iraqi mission.
What are the main obstacles you come across at work?
Working in Iraq is especially complicated for security reasons. There are still some instable areas where fights are carrying on, unexploded mines, areas with restricted access which are close to impossible to get entry permission for.
What, on the other hand, do you see as the main success of the Iraqi mission?
When I started working in Caritas Czech Republic back in 2018, we had one small project and only three employees. Me and my colleagues were very enthusiastic, though, and started working hard on securing more funding and thus more support for more families. These days, we employ more than 50 people, who work in six Iraqi governorates. This means that we have a lot more possibilities than only a very few years back, and we can reach more people, and address wider spectrum of issues that Iraqis have to face while rebuilding their country.
Caritas Czech Republic has been working in Iraq for several years, apart from supporting farmers and small businesses, we have been part of a school feeding programme, which allows children from poor families to attend school, and also renovating homes damaged in the war. Our support has been made possible by grants from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Czech Bishops Conference, UN Habitat, WFP, OCHA and Caritas France.