MEDIA RELEASE, Wellington, Thursday, 18 March,
Issued on the Authority of Commissioner Shaw Clifton
Territorial Commander, The Salvation Army, New Zealand Fiji & Tonga Territory
Kiwi Salvationists head to Iraq
A team of New Zealand Salvationists is heading to Iraq in April to continue work on the Army’s community re-establishment programme. The five-person team will be based in Al Amarah, southeastern Iraq, which has been the centre of Salvation Army operations in Iraq since August last year. Team leader Captain Bruce Coffey says the kiwi contingent expects to remain in Iraq for at least six months, during which time they will manage humanitarian aid projects funded by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the New Zealand Government. They will be joined by an English Officer and an Anglican agriculture specialist, and supported by about 20 local staff in support roles as translators, security guards, drivers, and engineers.
Captain Coffey says that although the specific projects the Team will be involved with are not yet known, he expects them to be similar to those already undertaken by The Salvation Army. During a two month posting in Iraq late last year, for example, Captain Coffey managed a US$800,000 job creation scheme – funded by the Coalition Provisional Authority – that deployed more than 10,000 Iraqis to clean up debris and rubbish from the streets of Al Amarah. Other Salvation Army managed projects have included reconstruction of more than 50 schools and medical centres, establishment of sewing and computer training programmes, clearing open sewer drains and resettlement of returnees.
Captain Coffey says that people in southern have endured harsh living conditions, including the looting and trashing of public buildings and schools after the war. ‘When I left in November, people were still receiving monthly rations of basic food items. Running water and electricity supplies were becoming more reliable, but unemployment continues to be a big problem.’ Captain Coffey says that the local people he worked with were very keen to see things improve. ‘With the demise of the old regime, many Iraqis are making the most of their new freedoms by making their own decisions and putting their entreprenurial skills to work.’
Fellow team member Captain Pauline Coffey, who is also a registered nurse, has a special interest in working alongside the women of Al Amarah. ‘There are a very large number of families with no male bread winner, so I want to help the women take as much control of their own destiny as possible,’ she says. ‘I hope to be involved in some community health developments as well as finding ways of helping women earn money to support their families.’
Captain Coffey says that local people greatly appreciate the work The Salvation Army is doing to help them get back on their feet. ‘We were welcomed enthusiastically by the senior local religious leaders, as well as local politicians, government officials and civic organizations,’ he says. ‘The Salvation Army has a reputation for getting things done and many groups approached us directly for help.’
Captain Coffey says that although security can be a concern, taking sensible precautions helps to minimize risks to staff. The Salvation Army office building where staff work and live, for example, is protected by security guards continuosly. When team members travel around the local community they use reliable vehicles and are always accompanied by a translator. Travel between Al Amarah and the Kuwaiti border poses greater risks. ‘There have been numerous car-jackings reported on this route, but we reduce the risk as much as possible by traveling when the roads are busiest, driving as fast as we are able and having an armed escort.’
The other members of the kiwi team are Lieut-Colonel Lil Grieg (Oxford), Diane Peck (Oxford) and Martyn Smith (Hamilton).