An Assyrian Rights interview with Robel Malki, President, Assyrian Without Borders (AWB):
– Please describe AWB: when was it established, by whom, and what is the objective or statement of purpose for the organization?
AWB was founded in 2007 by young Assyrians from Sweden who had traveled to Tur Abdin, South-Eastern Turkey, to visit their home land. For many, that trip was their first to the land of their ancestors. Most participants were surprised by the low living standards of their fellow men. For some of them this trip became a turning point in their lives and the beginning of Assyrians Without Borders. When they came back to Sweden they decided that something needed to be done, and this time, it was to be done properly. They applied for membership in SFI, a Swedish foundation that controls Swedish humanitarian organisations to make sure that every penny that is donated to the organisation is well spent. This means that our activities are closely watched and that our donors know that their donations actually reach the target group.
AWB is the one humanitarian organisation in Europe with Assyrians as a target group which is being scrutinized by an official national institution. This implies that AWB is an organisation to be trusted, but also an organisation that is professional, which follows Swedish organisational standards and above all which is devoted to its cause. Our overall aim is to help Assyrians in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran to help themselves. By Assyrians we mean all churches included, Syriac, East-Assyrian and Chaldean. By self-help, we mean implementing long term sustainable projects that aim at helping the target group improve its own standard of living. We implement long-term sustainable projects such as infrastructural ones like the construction of water tanks, the reparation of water channels or the installation of generators. We also put much emphasis on education by supporting schools and facilitating access to them. We grant scholarships to Assyrian university students two times a year (once every semester). We implement emergency relief, mostly for refugees, trough the distribution of life necessities such as food, baby diapers or medicine. Last year, we distributed wheelchairs to disabled refugees in Damascus. We work both directly with the target group, through village schools and with the students that apply for scholarships and with partner organisations located in the area. Part of our work is also to raise public opinion about Assyrians’ situation. Everyone that works for AWB is a volunteer.
– What are the current projects of the AWB?
Our latest project was the financing of a school bus which now safely drives Assyrian children to Assyrian schools in the governorate of Duhok, northern Iraq. In total, 85 Assyrian students, living in the remote villages of Koregavana, Bagere and Romta, now travel safely to Akkad Basic School and Nasebin High School, where they can practice their native language freely and where tuition is in Assyrian. We also granted 6 students from Iraq and Syria scholarships of 600 € each. This year’s Christmas project aims at helping 353 Assyrian refugee families from Iraq that now live in Damaskus by providing them with foodstuff. Most of the refugees are widows and orphans and thereby some of the most vulnerable Assyrians in the world at the moment. Our primarily goal is to work on a long term basis, which such an emergency relief isn’t. In a better world, there would be no need for food distributions, but the reality is harder than many would like to believe and these Assyrians are in acute need of a helping hand. We wished to reach out to them and brighten up their Christmas holiday.
– What are some of the success stories of AWB?
Following last year’s Christmas campaign, we collected some of the reactions within the target groups. Jameelah Bazo, one of the 29 disabled refugees who received a wheelchair during our Christmas campaign said: ” Before, I always needed someone to help me in and out of my bed, you gave me new legs and the possibility to move”. Villagers reported, through our partner organization, following our second Christmas project 2010, “Water and Electricity for Assyria” that: “We (villagers of Peposey and Sardarava) are now able to link water to our houses”. They added that “the new water tank in Bebad now is a source of water supply to a large number of households providing us with clean drinking water and the irrigation channel gave life to many farms”.
– What are the best ways for people worldwide to support AWB?
Spread the word about AWB and the Assyrians’ situation. Increase your own and other people’s awareness about Assyrians. Follow our work through our web site: assyrianswithouthborders.com and make a difference by donating or just spreading the word. Inspire people from all backgrounds to understand the situation and find interest in it.
– The plight of Assyrians within the Middle East have been largely ignored by the international media and rights groups, how can we best communicate the urgency of this situation to such audiences to increase awareness and inspire action?
The power of the media is not to be underestimated. Use the new generation of social networking to reach out. It is also important to push through information and recognition to congresses and parliaments. Write reports and send them everywhere, never take no for an answer.
Thank you Robel for your work and for taking the time to inform our readers about it!
To our readers: Don’t forget to support AWB by spreading awareness about the plight of Assyrians and to donate to the initiative.