MISSION TO IRAQ - 12-19 March 2001

Date :12th March 2001
Time :10 pm
Location : KLIA
Subject : Flight delayed!

We just had dinner at McDonald' s. Everyone is excited and bursting with energy. We assembled at TAS earlier this evening and left for KLIA together. When we arrived here,it was hardly 8 pm.A few moments later ,we learned that our flight(Jordanian Airlines) via Qatar had been delayed! We were scheduled to leave at 1.10 am with the rest of the Malaysian delegation. Well,gotta go! We kids have decided to take one last look around our beloved KLIA!

Time : 11.05 pm
Location : VIP Lounge
Subject : We are finally leaving!

Finally! After much anticipation, we are finally given the green light to pack up and leave..from the VIP lounge of KLIA!!! Frankly speaking,I think this is the first time any of us has been in here for me, just being here in the lounge is like & is this all happening to me! & .. It' s beautiful! And look...it' s Dato' Seri! I can' t believe she is actually here!

Time : 11.45 pm
Location : Aircraft, seat number 15E
Subject : Of we go!

Well, our beloved Dato' Seri had plenty to say before we left. She reminded us to take care of ourselves(pump ourselves with vitamins,etc)and to be on our best behavior. She also put Khairul and Syamalan in charge or the rest of us(since they were the only boys!). You should have seen the look on their faces! Imagine,looking after five noisy,energetic,beautiful(ahem) girls!

Dato' Seri also gave us some idea of what to expect when we arrive in Iraq. She told us to be strong and not to break down when we witness for ourselves the suffering people have to go through there.

We were already both mentally and physically prepared for this mission. I' m sure all of us know what sort of situation we are about to encounter and how we are to react to it when we actually see it. Personally,when I think about it , I feel both nervous and excited.I guess it' s the mysterious part about not knowing what to expect. Hmmm...

Date : 13th March 2001,Tuesday
Time : 6.59 am(local time)
Location : Amman,Jordan Subject : WOW

We just arrived in Amman! And the view is breathtaking!It' s very cool right now,about 13 degrees Celcius. We met Uncle Sabri and Aunty Wati at the airport. I felt so glad to see them,after such a long time. The architecture here is simple but attractive. The houses are all plain off - white colours, and they are all built the same way,like bricks and boxes. Jordan is very hilly and mountain like. The interesting part about this is that the houses and buildings are built on the hills,unlike Malaysia where we remove them for development. As the boys say,Amman is one big gigantic Lego City!

Time : 10.30 pm
Location : Room 616,Intercontinental Hotel
Subject : What we did today

What an exhausting day! We had a handful of activities lined up for us almost immediately after we arrived. Of course,the first on the list was..breakfast!! The food here is amazing. They have a wide variety of delicacies to choose from..might I remind you,this was just breakfast. Can you just imagine lunch!

Well, we were given a tour of Amman. Amman is a beautiful city with beautiful sites and a lot of history to go with it. Did you know that the Greeks,Romans,Christians and Muslims all once ruled here? We were taken to the Roman theatre ,the Dead Sea and even to a park where kids like us hang out most of the time. Interesting,huh? The Dead Sea looked quite normal to me Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to take a dip. But we did taste the water!it burnt my toungue! For your information,the Dead Sea consists of 33 % salt. That is why nothing lives in it.And people actually do float!Wow!

....

It was a tiring day. But our itenary did not stop here..we were invited to dine with the Malaysian delegation at the Malaysian Ambassador of Jordan' s residence. Ah,it was so good to taste our Malaysian food again!

We leave for Iraq tomorrow ,morning by GMC or rather four wheeled drives. Amman is so beautiful. I wish I could stay longer.

Date : 14th March 2001.Wednesday
Time : 7.05 am
Location :Intercontinental Hotel Grounds
Subject : Our mission begins

Well,we are all set to leave for Iraq. During this 10 hour drive will be essential for us to catch up on our sleep and rest. Okay,I' m sleepy...yawn. I' m going to doze off soon. Look' s like Syam already has!

Time :12.15 pm
Location : Iraqi border
Subject :Goodbye Jordan,Hello Iraq!

After complicated issues at the immigration, we finally made it to the border. We just had lunch.nasi lemak,yum! Well,it' s all work and no play from now onwards. We have a serious mission to accomplish and all of us are determined to bring back as much footages as possible so that we can convince Malaysians that our Iraqi friend needs help. Well& .here we go!

Date : 15th March 2001,Thursday
Time : 7.15 am Location :Karradak Mariyam Orphanage
Subject : Our Mission begins

Al-Rasheed Hotel was packed with guests from around the continent.We were lucky to get a room in what was supposed to be the best hotel in Baghdad.It was raining heavily when we arrived last night.This hotel is clearly out of date.This was our first encounter with the effects of the sanction.

Today we are visiting an orphanage and a children' s hospital. We are outside now. What will we see inside?

Time : 9.30 pm
Location :Al- Rasheed Hotel
Subject : What I saw

Today was a real eye opener.We are so lucky to live in a peaceful country where we get everything!My God,theses kids are deprived of everything!Education,entertainment, basic needs.everything!It came as a shock when I walked into the orphanage this morning.It wasn' t a very big one, but there were so many children in there!All of them are very young!The children are only around three to four years old.Most of them lost their parents in accidents and during birth.Some of them have no family at all.All these children wore similar clothes.I suddenly realized that they must be wearing their best outfits as they knew of our visit today.But...even their best didn' t look good.Their orphanage lacks many things,and among them are proper education for the children.

Our orphanages in Malaysia have many sponsors and donors.These children have no one to help them as everyone is too busy looking after themselves.For a second,I thought about the 70 odd children and their futures.Do they really have a future?

I left the orphanage feeling a little depressed as I alone could not change anything there.There was one incident I will remember always.As we handed out ' Kit kat' to the kids,I noticed how each one of their faces would light up with joy as they received their chocolates.I don' t think they have even seen chocolates before.Some of them even saved their chocolates.

I thought the orphanage was bad enough.what was in store for me at the hospital was even worse.The Al-mansoor Children' s Hospital looked okay from the outside.But,as they say, do not judge a book from it' s cover.Most of the children we saw were below the age of 5.They suffer from lung infections,kidney failures,diabetes,cancer,leukemia,and many other types of diseases.The sanctions have resulted in shortage of medicine,lab equipment,detergents,latest technology and even operation theatres which are not complete.They are still using penicillin!Do you know how outdated that is?

I thought the orphanage was bad enough.what was in store for me at the hospital was even worse.The Al-mansoor Children' s Hospital looked okay from the outside.But,as they say, do not judge a book from it' s cover.Most of the children we saw were below the age of 5.They suffer from lung infections,kidney failures,diabetes,cancer,leukemia,and many other types of diseases.The sanctions have resulted in shortage of medicine,lab equipment,detergents,latest technology and even operation theatres which are not complete.They are still using penicillin!Do you know how outdated that is?

This hospital receives 10 000 patients each month.It is completely free of charge.I was so relieved to hear this,but he later added that 30 children die each month as well.From our research, we found out that 7500 children under the age of five die every month in Iraq.that at is almost the same number of children in two schools!This also explains why we saw very young children at the hospital. Most of them don' t get to see their 6th birthdays.

....

The people here are very poor.The hospital smells of blood and penicillin and dirt.it' s very isgusting.Despite all this,people still bring their children here.they don' t have a choice.Can you imagine how it is like to leave your child' s fate in the hands of  a hospital which doesn' t even ave enough detergent?This has been going on for more than 10 years.Isn' t it ironic that we didn' t know anything about this?

Date : 16th March 2001,Friday
Time :10.05 am Location : Babylon
Subject :The rich heritage admist the suffering

Babylon City ,the pride and joy of Iraq.We are taking a tour around Babylon with Dato' Chua and the Malaysian delegation.Situated on the outskirts of Baghad,it still looks the same(according to our guide).In brief,there were two dynasties and the famous King Hamurabi belonged to the second.Babylon was destroyed by a Persian King.It is believed that the hanging Gardens were built by King Nebuchadnezzar for his wife.We were anxious to see it...then we found out it no longer exists!sigh!

Time :2 pm
Location :Coaster
Subject : Sadaam City Hospital

Sadaam City Hospital is worse off than the hospital in Baghdad.The situation is almost the same here,on the smell is worse.It makes you feel very sick and drowsy.Parents practically fought to get ballons for their kids from us.Fighting for balloons!That shows the real situation.

Time :4 pm
Location : Al Meriyah bomb shelter
Subject : We are going in

We are going in.Phew. When I walk in,I immediately felt cold.The walls were black and it.was a very different feeling. The ' tour' of the shelter was...I can' t describe it in words.It sent shivers down my spine and it made me cry to see what war had done to innocent people.What wrong did they do?

On February 13th 1991,about 4 am, two  US missiles laser guided hit the shelter.The first missile penetrated the six layered concrete ceiling and the explosion cut off all electricity,sealing all exits and openings gates.The second missile hit the hot water compressor.It exploded and flooded the 2nd floor of the shelter with hot boiling water.The temperature was close to 900 degrees arenheit.there were more than 400 people inside. 418 of them perished,100 of them children.Only 14 survived.

As we walked around what was left of the shelter,we saw 'shadows' on walls.These were the imprints of bodies that were thrown against the walls due to the impact.there was an outline of a mother still holding her child.There was another of a head...without a body.When we looked up,we saw handprints of children who had been sleeping on the top bunks that fateful day.Downstairs we saw remnants of skin,hair,blood,badly damaged walls.pictures if the people who had perished were hung on the walls.They were so innocent,so beautiful..so young.Some families vanished completely as all of them had died here.We just stood in front of the photographs..mourning.

How could anyone do this?Who are they to decide death?How dare they play God?So many uestions,but no answers..none of us left the shelter with dry eyes,but we certainly left with heavy hearts.Once again it was a feeling of helplessness and defeat.

We interviewed a survivor,Amar the next day.He was only 17 then Now he is 27 years old,and lives alone as he lost his family here too.

Date : 17th March 2001
Time : 9 am Location : School
Subject : We are much better off

The schools are not any better.Each day,the picture gets uglier and uglier.They have to share tables and chairs, stationery..everything.they don' t have enough lab equipment,textbooks,teaching materials or even classrooms.

Students here only learn through outdated textbooks.they know nothing of the outside world and have no idea of how to put the theory into practice in subjects concerning science.Their classrooms are plain,with no decoration or many form of creativity.

This...is another devastating effect of the sanctions.

Date : 18th March 2001
Time : 7 am Location :Al-Rasheed Hotel
Subject : Farewell-Mission Accomplished...or is it?

Well, we are finally leaving.Part of me feels happy to leave.but  another part was still wishing I had done something to help.Of course,we brought along 30 boxes of goodies,stationery and food..but I still feel that didn' t quite help them the way it was supposed to.

It is so depressing to see children suffer in one part of the world when others seem to have fun all the time.The sanctions have obviously affected the children the most,but the adults seem to dismiss this fact.They are the future leaders of tomorrow,if they don' t get help, then their nation won' t too!It is unfair to see them suffer.and lead such a terrible childhood.As if the war wasn't terrible enough,now they have to fight to survive.

Date : 19th March 2001,Monday
Time : 4.30 pm(Malaysian time)
Location : KLIA Subject :What now?

All of us are determined to get the message across..they are suffering and we are not.Is it fair? Can we do something about it?Can we make the difference? The children of Iraq have been suffering for more than 10 years now. Do they deserve to suffer any longer?

Think about it!

by Darshana Sivanathan