Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 22, 2004
School aids students in Iraq
Local Muslim child tells of fleeing rocket's red glare
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Ruya Refik knows first-hand what it is to flee from a rocket's red glare.
The Grade 8 student at Edmonton Islamic School was visiting relatives in her native Iraq last September when a salvo of bombs flew overhead one evening, forcing everyone to seek cover.
"We saw bombs fly straight across a field only 20 metres from where we were standing. They looked like big red shooting stars. It was really loud."
Refik told her story to a general assembly of about 500 K-6 students and faculty at St. Angela School on March 16 as part of a Lenten fund-raising/letter writing project that links the two different religious schools to help child victims of war in Iraq.
St. Angela is focusing on helping a school in the town of Al-Mutayha in southern Iraq that was damaged last year during an invasion by American and other forces.
The students will send letters of solidarity and support to the students and teachers of their twin school, along with some financial assistance.
"It was hard to go back and see family living like that; living in fear," Refik said in an interview.
Refik was only one when she and her parents fled to Turkey. The family has been in Edmonton for 10 years and it was difficult for her to see relatives in her hometown north of Baghdad living in such hostile conditions.
"Some people's houses were gone. Stores were destroyed. It's hard for them to get clean water. Water and electricity supplies are cut off every night. Sometimes they aren't turned back on in the morning so people have to store as much water as they can, when they can."
Visiting her hometown with her six-year-old niece, Refik saw the result of the bombing attacks. Unexploded bombs were lying about. Destroyed armed vehicles stood motionless. American soldiers walked the streets.
"It wasn't very good. Adults and children walked the streets during the day not knowing what might happen within the next minute. But they are indoors at night for fear of being shot," she said.
"My niece is only six but she understood what was happening. When it was time to go, she didn't want to leave. She asked me 'What if something happens to them and I never see them again?' She was worried because you never know where the bombs are going to hit," she said.
Refik is grateful for what the students and faculty of St. Angela are doing for children in Iraq.
"They need help," she said.
Ed Carson, teacher of 12 special-needs students at St. Angela, heard the message loud and clear.
It was his class, which he calls The All Stars, who initiated the campaign almost by accident in November.
"We first thought about it as a Remembrance Day event," Carson said. "We said we would specifically save money for the children in Iraq. I told them we would spend the entire month saving money and they told me they wanted to continue."
The children initially recycled juice boxes during the lunch hour and so far, their efforts have garnered $330. They are determined to help, Carson said.
"It has had a very powerful effect. I was reading to them The Diary of Anne Frank and when the students realized she was in a situation of atrocity towards the Jews, I told them such atrocities are still happening today; it was not only during World War II," he said.
That's when the students decided they wanted to do something in addition to raising money.
Carson told them of the power of words - about how writing was a tremendous way for Anne Frank to express her feelings.
"I told them that sometimes people can't express their feelings to their friends verbally, so Anne Frank wrote a powerful diary. The students said the letter writing was to be their way of communicating to the children in Iraq."
The rest of the school has become involved after the Edmonton Muslim School was contacted to help with some translation.
Carson said the students in Iraq are unaware of what is being prepared for them.
"Hopefully all of the correspondence will be gathered up and presented to them sometime in April," he said.
Al-Mutayha is a fairly affluent area of Iraq supporting itself with a modest fishing industry. Ironically, this is a reason for its suffering. From the United States to Saddam Hussein himself, the area of lush marshes and ancient palm trees has been the target of war.
Relief for this region near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is also considered necessary because it is anticipated that the nation's proposed post-war rebuilding process will bypass Al-Mutayha, leaving the people without adequate schooling and sanitary living conditions.
"We hope other schools and communities want to get in on this campaign and do their part to help," Carson said.