On a mission to help children

BY WEAM NAMOU

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St. Jude Iraq held its second annual dinner gala on November 2 at Penna’s of Sterling Heights. The 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization was established in 2015 by Father Wisam Matti of St. George Chaldean Church shortly after he returned from a trip to Iraq. 

“I visited with the refugees and saw the miserable situation the kids lived in,” he said. “They are suffering in many ways and are in great need of humanitarian efforts.” 

The mission of St. Jude Iraq is to help the sick, orphaned, handicap, and children with special needs who are the victims of war and persecutions. Here’s how their process works: a designated person in each of the three areas they serve – Alqosh, Dohuk, and Baghdad – looks for people needing aid; that person forwards the necessary information to St. Jude Iraq’s board members; the Board studies the case and, if it fits into their program’s criteria, they approve and assist the child.

“Sometimes we’ll get a text or an email in the middle of the night about a child in critical condition,” said Nancy Boudagh, Treasurer of St. Jude Iraq. “We try our best to quickly approve those urgent cases.”

That means spending the night on the phone studying the situation to come to a decision.

“It’s very emotional,” said Boudagh. “Sometimes you cry hearing the stories or when we’re in the office, we’ll just sit there looking at each other in silence.”

There are countless stories of how children have benefited to date, one of a boy between the age of 4 and 5 who required a bone marrow transplant. The family didn’t have money for airfare transportation to France, where a hospital offered to fund the surgery, so St. Jude Iraq paid the airfare for the parents, the child and his brother. The surgery was successful.

They’ve had cases of brain tumors and brain fluids and many of hip dislocation where the child cannot walk properly, some are even paralyzed. St. Jude Iraq helped them receive medical treatment in Iraq which greatly improved their health. The designated person then follows up with each case to make sure that the money is spent accordingly and to provide the board members updates on the child’s wellbeing.

“Our focus is children but there are other ways to help,” said Boudagh. “Now people are returning to their homes in the villages and finding everything destroyed. They need physical, financial, emotional, and psychological help to cope. They are living in a very unpredictable world.” As of today, St. Jude Iraq is assisting more than 500 children – from newborns to 18 years old. They send $35,000 to Iraq every month which provides $100 monthly sponsorship for more than 250 children who are orphans, having lost one or both parents. They can’t afford nutritious meals and live on the floor of markets, in rental homes or in overcrowded homes with extended family members.

Wanting to ensure the children are kept safe, particularly when trying to get an education, St. Jude Iraq provides transportation for 132 high school students to get to and from school. Many would otherwise have to walk miles to get to school in unsafe zones. They also fund a kindergarten school, have sponsored more than 14 urgent surgeries and during Christmas they bring smiles to the children by sending personal hygienic and backpack gifts.

“It’s so rewarding to see what we can do for the children,” said Noreen Mika, Secretary of St. Jude. “We’re the reason they have hope.”

“Everyone is affected when we help someone,” said Boudagh. “To know that you’re taking these children to the next stage, relieving their pain, that they feel someone out in the world cares about them – this means a lot to them and it means a lot to us too.”

Mika, who coordinated both dinner galas at Penna’s, said that last year 500 people attended and $35,000 was raised. This year, 600 people attended and $51,000 was raised. 

“What’s cool about it is the event was put together by teenage volunteers,” said Mika. “Sometimes we put a lot of dependence on adults to see results but in this case three to four teenagers were able to collaborate to make a powerful change.”

She notices that some people are reluctant to donate because they fear the money wouldn’t actually go to Iraqi children but she says that they, like other organizations in the Chaldean diocese, pledge full transparency.

“If you sponsor a child for $100 a month, every cent of the $100 goes to that child,” she said. “We pair you up with that child and share their information, and in two areas – Alqosh and Dohuk – we include phone numbers. That way, there’s the possibility to learn about the child you’re sponsoring and why they need the money.”

While 90 percent of the children sponsored are Chaldeans, St. Jude Iraq also assists non-Christian children.

“My greatest vision is to pair every child with a donor,” said Mika. “If we can do that, we can reach out to more people that need help.”

To help St. Jude Iraq one can become a volunteer, sponsor a child or send monthly donations to pay for medications, diapers, urgent surgeries, and other needs such as paying for school expenses. Or, they can just spread the word of this work through family, friends and social media. For more information you can visit the website: stjudeiraq.org or Facebook: https://www.facebook. com/stjudeiraq/