Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Local Clinic Re-opens, Rejuvenates Disabled Iraqis

Story by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell

BAGHDAD – The al-Hamza Center for the Disabled re-opened in Yarmouk, June 15, to the Iraqi public with the help of coalition force's funding, elevating access to healthcare for a demographic that was once largely ignored by Saddam Hussein.

Dedicated CF Soldiers and Iraqi contractors spent about three months and $192,000 to help renovate the building, which also serves as dentistry, pharmacy and radiology clinics, said the project manager for the clinic, Capt. Mandi Breyman, assigned to the 46th Engineer Battalion, attached to 5th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.

"You couldn't recognize this facility three months ago," said the Republic, Ohio native, referring to the facility's state of disrepair.

The building was completely overhauled by hiring an Iraqi contractor to fix shattered windows, broken doors, busted water pipes and electrical wiring among other things, she added.

According to Breyman, the CF and Government of Iraq teamed up to hire local labor. Involving locals boosted the economy and provided the neighborhood with a sense of ownership of the clinic.

"Today we turn the facility over to the Ministry of Health. Iraqis have done everything here and it's theirs, we want them to take control over this facility," Breyman added before a large crowd of Iraqi doctors, patients and neighbors. "Iraqis own this project, now they need to keep it up. Take it as a gift, but take care of it."

One of the Iraqis, Nadia Ali Abulkarim, who will benefit from this gift, sat quietly by nodding her head from her wheelchair next to her daughter.

"I hope that this center will come to serve all disabled people and help all people like me," said Nadia after the ceremony. She also praised the humility of the American effort in recognizing the need for projects such as this.

"This is one of the best ways to help the handicapped," added Nadia, who is also a wheelchair fencing enthusiast. "Giving us the proper medicine, supplies and a clinic like this serves the whole Yarmouk area."

According to Nadia, before the fall of Saddam, the Iraqi government wasn't very interested in taking care of its disabled population, so this is a step in the right direction.

"It improves relations with the community," said Lt. Col. Todd Auld, a civil military operations officer from Little Rock, Ark., assigned to 2nd BCT, 1st Inf. Div. "And these types of projects fill a gap in health care that is needed."

Not only will this clinic improve community relations, boost the Ministry of Health's resources and increase trust for the GoI, but it also makes Iraq safer for Soldiers in the area, added Auld.

"When you fill these essential services for a community, you isolate the enemy," said Auld after touring the large outpatient clinic with doctors. "People that might be sitting on the fence could be swayed either way and that improves the security situation down on the ground."

After the ceremony, CF, doctors, Iraqi security forces and local Iraqis enjoyed mingling together in a jovial atmosphere while a celebratory feast of local cuisine was provided inside one of the newly-renovated white tiled rooms.

As the crowd began to disperse and the doctors went back to work, Auld explained, "If you improve the overall quality of life, it improves security, increases services and makes them less likely to support the insurgents and more likely to support their government."

The simple renovation of a clinic can have an immediate impact on Iraqis such as Nadia, but can leave a lasting impression on all of Iraq by restoring faith in the government that supports and protects them.

DVID, 15th June 2009

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