photo: Eddy van Wessel


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Caring is giving

The long rows of Kurds waiting to bring goods for their Syrian brothers were impressive. So were the piles of them at the schools in Kawargosh, where the army was collecting them. And when I saw the trucks in the refugee camps delivering these goods, I hoped the new owners realize what brought them here.

Giving is so different in Kurdistan than in my country. That has nothing to do with religion, or with whom you give to. The intent is the same: to help those that suffer. But in Kurdistan this is far more direct – from donor to receiver – than in the West.

Aid is an industry in the West, where many millions are received and spent every year. I used to donate regularly, to Amnesty International, to Oxfam, to Greenpeace. It was by automatic transfer from my bank account.

When emergency money was called for, the TV stations would organize an evening, and I would donate some too, for instance to the famine in Africa or the victims of the Iraq war. Again, just by transferring the money via internet and my bank account.

Giving is hardly personal in the West anymore. It has been made easy so many people will donate. But that has also taken away the beauty of the act of giving. And that is still very much alive in Kurdistan. Here when you give, you make an effort.

In Kurdistan just about all of what you give will be handed to the refugees. In the West, a part of the donation is used for the organisations administration and wages. That amount might be as high as ten percent.

There are a few private persons in Holland who work the Kurdish way. Trucks full of collected toys went to kids who fled their homes. But that is a very small niche in the aid industry. 

On the other hand, in the Kurdish way, not all donated goods are useful. I saw winter coats lying in the dust at Kawargosh Camp, discarded because of the temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius. Some matrasses were too dirty. 

Moreover, some necessary goods will not be donated. Who will bring a rechargeable fan or a water cooler? That still is left to the aid organizations. 

 In Kurdistan not only civilians come forward to help, the authorities do too. “I have not seen a government so active in helping the refugees as here”, the director of a visiting Dutch aid organization said to me. “Usually authorities just look on while the UN and aid organizations are helping.”

Kurdish troops are setting up tents and even cooking for the refugees. 

I am proud of my new country. Because care shows. That is the real gift.

This blog was published as a column in the Kurdish daily Kurdistani Nwe

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