Sami and his family lived all their life in Basra, a city in southern Iraq, until the US invasion. Sami, like many Iraqis, thought that this would be a war for the liberation of Iraq, as the US and their allies called it.
In the summer of 2003, Sami, a retired school teacher and painter, hoped that his private art business would flourish because now he would be able to sell more Iraqi art. In the spring of 2004, he, his wife, Leila, also a school teacher, and their two college-aged children, Fayez and Hala, were threatened by some of the radical Muslim groups that have emerged in Iraq since the invasion. They all felt it was too unsafe to stay in Iraq so they left for Damascus in that winter.
Through the Middle East Council of Churches' cash assistance program, MECC staff met the family in one of the local churches and established contact with Sami's family. MECC staff assistance went beyond cash and food assistance, even though the assistance was not a lot, even for a family of four. Even so, MECC staff have helped to provide space in a hall in one of the Damascus churches for Sami to have an exposition of his paintings of Iraq. This helped him to have a source of some income to face the high (and ever-increasing) cost of living in Damascus. Through the food program providing relief to many Iraqis,the MECC also was later able to offer further assistance to Sami and his family. Sami and his family have appreciated the MECC staff's help in walking the extra mile, helping them in renewing their visa when it expired. Such help is offered to Iraqis either directly or through the local churches who are involved with ministry to Iraqis refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
For almost 3 years the MECC offered Sami and his family the support they could until early in 2008, when the family was finally resettled in a third country outside the region.
The Rev. Dr. Nuhad Tomeh is one of the Middle East Council of Churches' three Associate General Secretaries and Coordinator of the Iraq Relief Program