PREEMPTIVE LOVE COALITION T h e Jo u r n a l , Vo l . 3
Healing and Hope After ISIS
The Friendly Center
A Step Toward Peace
Hospitality in the Desert
Hope Is Blooming
Food Is More Than Nourishment
Standing on the Frontlines in Syria
Lighting the Way Back to Aleppo
What if Thereâ€™s A Better Way?
Praying for Papers
Fighting for the Forgotten in Houston
Creating Home for Her Family
A More Peaceful Future Starts Here
More Than Surviving
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Dear Friend, As I have walked the streets of Mosul, Aleppo, Damascus, and so many villages and towns throughout Iraq and Syria this past year, I have been continually awed by the resilience and drive we have as human beings to push on, to go forward, to survive. I feel like we’ve spent the last four years holding our breath, waiting for the next place to be liberated from terror and treading into these places, into the pain, with whatever these neighborhoods needed at the time. We’ve gone together as a Preemptive Love community, meeting vast needs, one community at a time. We had no idea what one bag of food, one medical clinic, one new business would really mean to these families and their communities. But now every place that I step is proof that when we show up, when we partner with vulnerable people, we set peace and stability in motion. I believe more than ever that every dollar we spend to partner with communities grows exponentially. When we show up with food allowing people to stay home, and when we stand alongside them in partnership to create new jobs and businesses, and when we provide health care and home rebuilding—it creates amazing opportunities for sustainable, lasting growth. Everything in me wishes that each of you who have partnered with these families could come and walk these streets with me. That you could sit in the home of each family and hear their stories of brokenness and their new story of renewal. I want you to know and experience what I see every time I turn around in Syria. How fields that laid fallow through seven years of war are now bearing fruit and bringing hope to families as they move home. How water irrigation canals that have been dry for seven years are now being made whole and new again, carrying life-giving water to their communities. How families are moving back to destroyed neighborhoods to remake home. We are not far down this road of healing in Syria and Iraq, but we are at the very beginning of seeing violence being unmade here. The very beginning of wholeness. I’ve stood in so many broken homes over the past few years, and now I get to stand in some of the first to be made new, all because of your choice to love anyway. We have renewed hope that all things really can be made new. It really is working! We will continue walking with these communities as they grow and thrive and we will keep putting before you the needs of those who have been forgotten or deemed too “insignificant” to deserve aid. Thank you for the role you are playing here. As my feet, hands, and eyes bear witness to these changes, I am ever grateful for each and every one of you who has chosen to go all in with these families—because we know that we belong to each other.
JESSICA COURTNEY Vice President International Programs
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Healing and Hope After ISIS
The Friendly Center
A Step Toward Peace
Hospitality in the Desert
Healing and Hope after ISIS By Erin Wilson
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ar in Iraq didn’t just destroy buildings or take lives, it dismantled whole communities and cultures. Rebuilding from such devastating and overwhelming loss is never easy—it takes time and money, persistence and determination. Many healthcare facilities and hospitals in ISISaffected areas have yet to reopen, but you are filling the gap by supporting health centers across Iraq and ensuring families have access to lifesaving first aid and medical care.
Healing at Home Yousif was just a toddler when he stumbled into his family’s low-slung cooking range, spilling boiling water all over his back and thighs. It’s not that his parents weren’t careful; these efficient and cheap open-flame stoves are common in Iraq, Syria, and other developing nations. For many families, they are the only available means of cooking. But they can be dangerous for active children on the move.
All across Iraq, you are offering hope. You are providing care for small children like Yousif, mending brokenness, sowing love.
His tiny body gasping for air, Sarhan’s parents knew the situation was grave. Their 7-year-old son was clearly in respiratory distress, and the three small marks on his neck made it obvious what had happened: Sarhan had been stung by a scorpion. Scorpion stings are a common danger in rural Iraq, as scorpions love to sleep away the hottest part of the day tucked into the shade of rocks, the rubble of bombedout buildings, or under the floor of tents—in other words, the living environment for so many families in Iraq. Small and curled, the scorpion carries a toxic venom that is deadly for small children and the elderly. Sarhan lives in Ba’aj, a tiny town just four blocks long and three blocks wide. Although it’s small, Ba’aj is a frontier town of sorts, a regional gathering place, a service hub for supplies. Although ISIS no longer occupies the town, they still circle Ba’aj in the desert. “Safe” is always a relative term here.
Yousif ’s situation was life-threatening. His father was unsure if his son would survive the intense third-degree burns covering his small body.
But Ba’aj got a little safer earlier this year, when you helped open a health center.
But Yousif was in an especially vulnerable position, living in post-war Iraq, where many healthcare facilities and hospitals have yet to reopen, where options for care are often too far away.
Sarhan got care quickly because of the health center in Ba’aj. His parents didn’t have to face hours in a car traveling to a distant hospital while their son grew more and more desperate to take a breath, while his vital signs plummeted, and his face greyed in exertion.
Except Yousif did live near a small health clinic— one you helped open and staffed with skilled doctors and nurses, people who were ready and willing to care for Yousif with gentleness and love. Yousif ’s burns were severe, but one nurse in particular dedicated himself to caring for him. Every day, the nurse would visit Yousif at his house, dressing his wounds, applying medicine, safekeeping the young boy from infection.
In Ba’aj, Sarhan received the treatment and medicine that he needed, right when he needed it, and his parents brought him back home, healthy.
When the worst happened, Yousif ’s parents had options, they had resources within reach. Instead of suffering and pain, Yousif is healed and thriving. Preemptive Love Coalition | 7
Dilgash has a degenerative eye disease, but there is one place he can go to be safe, to thrive, and to be a kid again.
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The Friendly Center By Matt Willingham
Refugee camps aren’t known as warm, friendly environments. A children’s center in one camp for Syrian refugees is changing that.
The Boy Named Bright Heart When he was very young and still in Syria, Dilgash, whose name means “bright heart”, was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease. Dilgash wasn’t able to join his brother packing a backpack or going to school. He stayed home, his eyesight growing dimmer. When the family escaped Syria and arrived in Iraq, they settled into a refugee camp that was unfamiliar and scary, fenced-in and caged with barbed wire. With the vision in one of his eyes almost totally gone and the other dimming, Dilgash visited a specialist. After several tests, the results came back: “There is no treatment for Dilgash inside Iraq. He would have to leave the country.”
His mother was broken, wondering if her radiant boy would ever have the chance to join other children out of the house, would ever strap on a backpack and follow his brother into a classroom. Around that time, the family heard about a special place in the camp, a “Friendly Center,” created just for children and run by a staff trained in social work and childhood development. Here Dilgash can join other kids learning, doing crafts, and playing games. Here Dilgash can be just like any other child. Dilgash’s eyesight may be dimming, but his smile is brilliant-bright, surrounded by friends in a center perfect for kids.
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A Place for Refugee Kids to Just Be...Kids Sixteen year-old Areen sat very still as she spoke. Her impossibly white shoes were planted firmly on the ground, her fists clenching the sides of her chair like she might fall over. “My father said if he comes here, he’ll take us back [to Syria] again, and we don’t want to go back with him. He beat us.” Areen and her family had arrived at the refugee camp anxious and scared. They fled both the atrocities of war and the violence of home—and the camp, while a haven from both, is intimidating with its coils of wire, its tall walls.
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Run by trained and caring staff, this “Friendly Center” offers a respite for children, a place for them to be innocent, to play and learn, to heal. Tucked into the back of the refugee camp, the space is open, bright, and colorful. Staff greet children by name. “When we first came, we thought we’d never make friends,” Areen recalled. “Now I have many friends. “We started to laugh. And when our friends see us feeling bad, they come to reassure us and make us laugh again.” Areen’s face brightened, thinking about her time with friends in the camp. “This place is safe.”
“We are forgetting the past. We’re not as afraid. We laugh again and our friends laugh with us.”
After escaping many horrors, Areen finally feels safe in the refugee camp’s “Friendly Center” for kids.
Dare to imagine a more beautiful world for refugee kids. See page 42.
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A Step Toward Peace By Matt Willingham
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Turkmen and Yazidis meet together to trade sheep—and pursue peace in the process.
ould you sit down with people who may have killed your friends?
After all that pain, would you listen to them or consider their side of the story? In August 2014, ISIS committed genocide against the Yazidi people of northern Iraq. Very few neighbors came to their aid. Some even betrayed the Yazidis, killing them or handing them over to ISIS. Yazidis were specifically targeted, slaughtered en masse, bodies piled into mass graves. Those who survived were carted off as slaves to be used and abused in horrific ways. To this day, an estimated 3,000 Yazidi people, mostly women and children, are still missing. Many Turkmen stood by as the Yazidis were slaughtered. Some even joined in.
So we knew gathering Yazidis and Turkmen together to negotiate the sale of some sheep wouldn’t be easy or clean or perfect. It started off fine enough, with a mediator extolling the two groups’ commonalities. “We’re all Iraqis together,” he said. “When one of us hurts, we all hurt. There are no differences between us.” The Yazidi sheikh began to speak, representing the group who endured genocide. He was passionate. He wasn’t accusatory, but he wasn’t going to pretend like everything was fine, like there wasn’t any tension or pain. The sheikh talked about what ISIS did to their women and children, how many of their men and elderly were murdered. He talked about mass graves and how many Turkmen had helped ISIS, to their great shame, and how abandoned the Yazidis felt.
We don’t have to fix everything. We can’t fix everything. But we can take a small step, right now, together.
Turkmen territory in northern Iraq has been a hub of insurgency since the days of the US-led invasion. ISIS found a foothold here. Many of its leaders hailed from Sunni Turkmen communities— though undoubtedly, hundreds of thousands of Sunni and Shia Turkmen families suffered terribly at the hands of ISIS, too.
The host family—all of them Turkmen— vehemently denied siding with ISIS. They argued they had suffered too, that their people were also dying, also struggling to survive.
In other words, it’s complicated.
For a moment, it felt like the meeting was going to be a total failure. Then our founder, Jessica Courtney, said something simple and profound:
Trust has been broken. Yazidis and Turkmen rarely do business. They even have separate schools to make sure their kids don’t interact at all.
As both groups took turns speaking, the tension in the room grew.
“Today isn’t about fixing everything. Today is about taking a step.”
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Yazidis and Turkmen had been gearing up for an argument, color in their cheeks and metaphorical fists raised. But at these words, they seemed to exhale. Heated debate turned back into conversation. After the meeting ended, sheikhs from both groups led us out to the front of the home, and the two communities did business together. Yazidis bought sheep from their Turkmen hosts. Again, it’s small. But when groups won’t even do business together, watching them walk arm-in-arm outside as they inspect and purchase sheep is beautiful. It’s a step.
We don’t have to fix everything. We can’t fix everything. But we can take a small step, right now, together. That’s what peacemaking has always, ever been. Peacemaking can be many things, but it is always at least this: small steps, taken together, over time. Many prefer to solve the world’s problems in a furious rush, in one day—and when they discover they can’t, they throw up their hands and call it a lost cause.
We all smiled as children chased sheep, as lambs teetered on fresh legs, and as men from both groups talked about meeting again. One sheikh even told the other, “We’ll know we’ve reached a great step when we can walk in each others’ villages freely and safely.” “I hope to see that day.” That, friends, would be a truly beautiful step.
How does peacemaking work, really? Peace doesn’t look like official proclamations, as if putting the word on paper alone turns it into reality. It’s not completed in handshakes and international summits. Peace isn’t achieved at big, fancy conferences on conflict resolution—where peacemaking is discussed in theory but not as easily practiced in reality. Peace is not something we can find at a distance from each other or over social media. Peace is made in person, in small, seemingly insignificant steps, often taken without notice or fanfare. 14 | Preemptive Love Coalition
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Hospitality in By Erin Wilson
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the Desert Preemptive Love Coalition | 17
or most of Rutba’s history, it was a place of welcome. Halfway between Baghdad, Iraq, and Amman, Jordan, it was a “wet spot” for ancient travelers and later, in the 1930s, a stopover for a British airline and transport and water companies. It was a place of refuge and rest in a brutally inhospitable environment. But Rutba has seen a cycle of military occupation over the last eighty years, from the British in the 1940s to the United States in early 2000s. At times, Iraqi detainees and civilians in Rutba were mistreated and abused, creating a culture of fear. The last US camp remained in Rutba until 2010. After seven years of US military occupation, Rutba needed the chance to rest, to restore itself. But rest never came. After decades of conflict and battle, war-torn and defeated, the people of Rutba were depleted, certain
that no one had their back. Could their community continue to offer respite and safety in the midst of continuous occupation? It is into that pain, exhaustion, and frustration, ISIS arrived, just three-and-a-half years after US forces left. To ISIS, it seemed as if Rutba was made just for them. Roads originally developed to ship goods through the desert and between countries now allowed ISIS to easily move soldiers, weapons, and supplies. And the merciless desert provided a natural, protective buffer. ISIS remained in Rutba for two years before the city was liberated and ISIS fighters withdrew to nearby villages. But ISIS still rules the desert, especially at night. They are preparing, launching attacks against local communities, until they are called up by ISIS leaders to begin war again. The whole desert area here is still a militarized zone. Permissions have to be obtained to cross the dozens of checkpoints along the highway. In Rutba, the war isn’t over yet. It’s all too much for one community to bear. Decades of war and occupation on a repeating cycle have been economically crushing. And the residents of Rutba—they are tired, they are hungry, and they desperately need to feel like someone is in their corner. Three standing tables are lined up in the thin wedge of shade made by the house. The mid-April sun is already hot in the Rutba desert, so I’m grateful for the
ISIS still rules the desert around this Iraqi town. But people here refuse to be defined by violence.
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careful arrangement. Platters piled high with poached sheep on beds of rice and vegetables take up most of the room at each table. The rest of the space is crowded with small, savory dishes—salads, homemade pickles, beans, and okra cooked in rich tomato sauce. I had arrived in Rutba with the aid distribution team to share a meal and to listen to the local leaders and decide together who needed the food packs and hygiene kits. Every leader wanted to help their own people, of course. There were a lot of heavy negotiations as they sorted out the needs of their people, and whose needs were most acute. Our host, the local sheikh, stands nearby, attentive to anything we might need. When he sees I’m not eating from the sheep, he steps close, pulls off bitesized pieces of meat, and piles them on the platter in front of me. When he learns I’m vegetarian, he shifts to spooning beans and okra on the platter any time my rice looks dry. In tribal Iraq, the host always serves himself last. We, as guests, come to the table first—our team, our local partners, and a collective of sheikhs from nearby communities. We are offered first choice of the delicious food that fills the table.
To be honest, I was worried about what we would find in Rutba. I was concerned that years of violence and an economy devastated by war would change the people of Rutba—that it would harden their hearts. But this midday meal in the middle of the desert outside Rutba perfectly illustrates the hospitality here. It runs so deeply in the culture, three generations of war couldn’t wipe it out. “ISIS was just an intruder to the body of Rutba,” the Rutba town director said. He was anxious for us to know his community as he knows it. “The community of Rutba rejects all the violence and the things that ISIS was doing. It’s a peaceful, open community here. It accepts all, from different communities, from different religions or different ethnicities. What’s happened is—ISIS came, but the community itself rejected every single thing ISIS did.” “We hope that you see the reality—the real life of Rutba, and the real people of Rutba... They are the same people. They didn’t change.”
When we step away, full, we have hardly made a dent. Next, the soldiers come to the table—those who are protecting us from possible attack by the ISIS fighters hiding out in the desert. When everyone has eaten, when everyone is full, the sheikh and his family eat. The people of Rutba come from a tradition of hospitality, kindness, and generosity.
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While decades of violence have not diminished Rutba’s hospitality, it has left many families here with little means of providing for themselves. It is into this that you showed up. After agreeing on a plan with local leaders, we were ready to distribute the food packs and hygiene kits we had brought for the people of Rutba. On delivery days, when our trucks roll into position for a relief distribution, the atmosphere is electric. So much work goes into preparing for this moment, and everyone is invested in the day going well. Long before your aid arrives, we work with local partners and leaders in each community—each neighborhood, even—to make preparations. Some parts of Iraq, like Rutba, are still considered militarized zones, so deliveries to these places require permissions from multiple layers of government. It is a long process which requires patience. Finally, the most difficult decision to make: who will receive food? On our distribution in Rutba, we made sure the following groups received food and supplies:
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As we approached Rutba in the early morning, a line of women—many of them widows—were lined up at the entrance gate. We stopped to talk with the women and heard stories of just how tough it is for them to provide for their families. The first woman in the line was there at 6 am, determined to get a share of the food.
Orphans Two young girls pushed forward from the crowd to receive their food. Orphaned by the war, they have been taken in by their extended family. The extra food and supplies they receive will ensure their relatives have what they need to care for the two girls, along with the rest of their family.
Those who work, and still can’t make ends meet Many of the women we meet at food distributions want us to understand that they aren’t looking for charity or a handout—just a little compassion.
Widows are a particularly vulnerable group in communities affected by ISIS.
One woman in Rutba works full-time at the local hospital while also caring for her disabled husband and their eight children. She earns a salary each month, but it is exactly enough to cover rent and not a penny more. When asked how they eat, she pauses, tells us that sometimes neighbors invite them for meals, and then she gets quiet. For this month, she won’t have to worry how she will feed her family.
food. Men from the community volunteer to help their neighbors get food, and in doing so, earn a share for themselves. In Rutba, the same volunteers arrived for a second day of working in the sun, even knowing they would only receive one share. They showed up simply for the reward of helping their neighbors.
Those who can’t find work Three successive generations in Rutba have known war. Because the town was built around a single industry, periods of violence cause the economic tides of the town to shift dramatically and no one knows when safety and stability will return. For now at least, they have something to help them through the uncertainty.
Volunteers It takes strong backs to shift thousands of pounds of
When you showed up in Rutba, you brought relief to villagers who still have to protect themselves from ISIS attacks every night. You honored the hospitality they freely give to everyone by showing kindness and generosity of your own. You saw them for who they really are—despite generations of war. You were present with Iraqis who often feel forgotten. You stood with families who didn’t know how they would get by, allowing them to once again reclaim their home and to offer hospitality to all its visitors.
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Hope is Blooming
Food is More Than Nourishment
Standing on the Frontlines
Lighting the Way Back to Aleppo
Hope is Blooming in Syria By Kim Mierau
Above: Rachida and her daughter. 24 | Preemptive Love Coalition
Far left: Mushroom farmers learn their trade from Dr. Luna. Left: Jeremy Courtney holds a bundle of mushrooms that are ready to be harvested.
It started with a drought. As climate shifted, the land dried up, grass receding into hard-packed dirt. Crops died, farms failed. Displaced agricultural families left the countryside to move to the city, seeking new jobs, new ways to provide for themselves. As cities grew in population, so too did unrest. New groups of people, new numbers, led to more tension, more protests. And then war. For years Syria has been lost in a struggle of power, of bombs, of never-ending conflict.
aren’t used to cooking with mushrooms, but they’re moving forward with openness and curiosity, stringing up bags of pasteurized hay and patiently waiting for the pale blooms to grow. We’re introducing something new to families, the culture, the marketplace. We’re teaching them how to grow the mushrooms, and providing recipes and classes on how to prepare them. It’s a bit of an experiment, this alternative. It’s a risk, but people are worth risking it all. Two hundred and fifty families will receive 35 bags of mushrooms to take home. In just 19 days, these bags will produce enough mushrooms for half a year’s mushroom, worth of income.
It’s just a but it’s so much more.
But it will end. It is ending. Then what? Relief—emergency kitchens, aid—these are good, these are necessary. But the wounds of war need more than temporary fixes, they need to be mended with real and sustainable change. For families in one rural part of Syria, it’s starting with a mushroom. It’s a lot to ask of the small, ivory gold fungi, with its fluted, ruffled edges. In the Aleppo countryside, in a community gutted by war, people are learning something completely new: mushroom farming. High in protein and packed with amino acids, mushrooms are cheap and relatively easy to grow, particularly in Syria’s intense climate. Rural Syrians
It’s not just income, though. It’s a potential new source of food for the families themselves. It’s a chance for them to reclaim their identity, to find their purpose again as providers, to speak again the language of farmers— soil and weather, seeds and harvest. It’s just a mushroom, but it’s so much more. It’s a living wage. It’s powerful, nutritious food that’s more than just calories. It’s a simple way to stabilize the food supply and reintroduce agriculture into the bombedout, barren landscape. It might all come down to the mushroom and its tender, determined farmers. They might just prevent history from repeating itself. Syria may look dark right now, with its decimated rubble, its mine-tilled earth. But in the dark, things are growing. Hope is blooming.
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By Erin Wilson
Syrian refugees are finding their way home again—around the table.
n Syria, nobody drinks their morning coffee alone. Your neighbor will even invite you to coffee, or you will invite them to coffee every day.”
Azad sits at a table on his wide balcony. It’s long past dark, the early summer air is warm, and the sound from the shops on the nearby street creates a steady background buzz. “People come and visit a lot,” he says referring to his former life in Syria. “Sometimes you’re at your balcony and some of your friends or people you know pass, and you say ‘Hey, come have a coffee’. It’s a very good thing.” Azad is animated as he speaks, hands waving, smile wide. He has lived in Iraq since early in the war, before his hometown Aleppo was destroyed by violence.
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“Of course, in Aleppo… the cuisine is so rich. They put so much concentration and so much effort on food. They enjoy the food… People, when they go to restaurants, they stay there for like four or five hours… People sit and enjoy the table.” Azad’s mother, Sheraz, learned to cook at home from her mother when she was 15-years-old. After she married at 19, Sheraz learned to make her new husband’s favorite dishes from his mother. Food played a central role in Sheraz’s life. She studied to be an electrical engineer and later a lawyer, but there was always time to think about the dishes she would serve her family. “Of course the ful—the broad beans and tahini—it’s kind of like the Friday ritual. At breakfast you have that. And of course we have mamoniya too. It’s crushed wheat, and they fry it with sugar and butter. It’s a very
‘Aleppo Friday ritual’ thing. First we eat the ful, and then move to the sweet thing. And we eat that with cheese—a salty cheese… and you won’t be hungry for like a week.” I ask what dishes they cook when they’re missing home. “Everything. Because all our dishes are different from here.” One of Azad’s favorite dishes is his mother’s kibbeh. And for Sheraz, it’s her favorite thing to cook. A type of stuffed, fried croquette, Sheraz makes hers about as long as your index finger and football-shaped. Sheraz makes a dough from bulgur, pinches off portions and forms them into shells that hold ground meat, walnuts, onion, and spices. The filling is a place for creativity, they tell me. In his family, they sometimes add sour pomegranate seeds—the flavor mixes very well with the meat. (See a family recipe
on the next page.) Azad prefers his mom’s kibbeh to any other. When Azad first moved to Iraq, he worked in restaurants to support his family. He knew a particular food culture growing up in Syria. He learned different approaches to food while working in Iraqi restaurants, serving foreign customers. “In Syria, people had a really long time to develop dishes, and to come up with things. Since the Ottoman Empire , they didn’t really have war. It’s a very old civilization. In Aleppo City, we have bazaars that are like, I don’t know, 2,000 years old. They were destroyed, in the last few years…” “When people are just trying to save their lives, they won’t focus too much on developing different kinds of bread, you know?”
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Kibbeh INGREDIENTS For the kibbeh shells: • 1 lb finely ground beef or lamb • 1 medium onion, minced • 1 and 1/2 cups medium bulgur (cracked wheat) • 1 tsp salt • 1/2 cup walnuts or pine nuts, chopped For the meat filling: • 1 lb finely ground beef or lamb • 1 medium onion, finely chopped • 1 tsp allspice • 1/4 tsp cumin • 1 tsp ground coriander • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon • 1 tsp black pepper • 1/2 cup sour pomegranate seeds • Vegetable oil for frying
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INSTRUCTIONS To make the shell: Soak bulgur for 15-30 minutes in cold water. Drain. Place in the center of a clean tea towel, gather the ends securely, and squeeze the bulgur to remove excess water. Place 1 lb ground meat, 1 minced onion, and 1 tsp salt in a food processor and pulse until it is finely ground, almost into a paste. In a large bowl, combine the meat, bulgur, and nuts and mix with your hands until the mixture has the consistency of dough. If needed, add cold water, a little bit at a time. Chill mixture in the fridge while you cook the filling. To make the filling: Saute the remaining onion in olive oil. Add the ground meat and spices. Cook until lightly brown, breaking up the meat as you stir. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Gently fold in the pomegranate seeds.
To assemble the kibbeh: With wet hands, form egg-sized lumps of the shell mixture into balls. Plunge your thumb into each ball, rotating and pinching the edges to make something of a cup shape. Add filling, pinch closed, and quickly form the ends into the shape of a football. You don’t want too much dough at the ends, nor do you want the walls too thick or thin. It’s not complicated, but will take a little practice. Chill for one hour before frying. Fry in oil until golden brown on all sides. With a slotted spoon or tongs, carefully remove the kibbeh and place them on a pan lined with paper towel to drain. Serve with tahini sauce, tzatziki sauce, or plain greek yogurt. Should make 25 kibbeh, give or take.
“You know, we have a [saying]: ‘Heaven without people is hell.’ ”
for baklava, or a food they make every holiday. Food is an essential rhythm for all people, but it’s a touchstone for Syrian people, a reason to gather, a catalyst for conversation and connection. It’s the recipes that are passed down through generations, the particular ways of cooking, the tastes that evoke memories of home and family.
Azad speaks about his Syrian friends who went to Europe to try to make a life. So many of them are desperately lonely. They are starving for the kinds of relationships that nourished them their whole lives. We talk about how different life is for them here in You know, we have a [saying]: We live in an increasingly northern Iraq. On this deaddivided world—family, ‘Heaven without people is hell.’ end street, where their house friends, whole communities sits cheek-by-jowl next to separated by war, politics, their neighbors, they don’t get many visitors. beliefs. Perhaps the way back home, whether in Syria or anywhere else, will begin around the dining table, Even after years here, it’s just not like home. friends and neighbors staying long hours, sharing a meal, hearing each other’s stories. Azad and other Syrians who fled home because of war lost so much more than a house. They lost their very We can wage peace in our own places, in our own pattern of life—a way of being that fed and nurtured homes and neighborhoods, around the table, over them in every way imaginable. fragrant dishes of rice and onions, meat and vegetables. We can honor the people of Syria with our giving, but Refugees are people like you and me. Maybe they also in learning their culture, experiencing their food, love to cook for their families and hate doing dishes. sharing their heritage of connection over a meal. Maybe they’ve got a favorite kind of tea, a weakness
Food in the Refugee Camps When war broke out, it changed everything, including the food people ate, and how they ate it.
can be a daily reminder of all the rhythms they have lost, but it doesn’t have to be.
Refugee camps operate on a card system. Each family gets a ration card listing how many people are in the family. The food they get is typically dry: rice, beans, sugar, flour, and oil. Because food is distributed once a month, it needs to keep.
In the bombed-out Damascus suburb of Douma, the hot food kitchen you’re supporting isn’t just serving the standard rice and beans every day on repeat. Here, they prepare delicious, fresh, restaurant-quality foods. Meals change daily and meat is served three times a week. It’s an intentional way we can show people they are loved and valued and seen. We know that food is much more than calories—it’s comfort.
The food is also heavier in starches and carbohydrates, which makes it a cheap way to keep people alive. The problem is, camp food rarely provides much in the way of vitamins, minerals, or good fats. To enjoy food like meat or eggs is considered a luxury in many camps. Families typically have to find work outside the camp to be able to afford that kind of protein.
Still, the food is different from what Syrians typically ate before the war. Like the camps in Iraq, shelters and kitchens in Syria provide the most cost-effective, filling ingredients they can.
It’s essential for traumatized people to establish rhythms of normalcy, and food is one of the most essential rhythms there is. For displaced people, food Food is More Than Nourishment | 29
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Standing on the Frontlines in Syria By Erin Wilson and Ben Irwin
The world watched in horror as Aleppo burned, as children were pulled from the rubble of bombed buildings, as chemical weapons rained down on children and families in Syria. But with each atrocity, with each successive horror of this war, the world reacted a little less. People grew numb— maybe out of necessity, as an act of self-preservation. But you refused to look away. You rushed food and medical care to the frontlines. You kept showing up.
“My whole body is tired. I am tired.” He stayed in Aleppo, Syria all through the fighting. He stayed through airstrikes strong enough to shake the earth beneath his feet, decimate centuries of history, and fill the air with plumes of dust made up of the pulverized lives of his neighbors. At 75-years-old, Ramadan’s body feels the effects of age, not to mention the stress of war. He came to one of our mobile medical clinics traveling through war-torn neighborhoods in Syria to have his blood pressure checked. When we asked Ramadan how he was feeling, he answered for millions of Syrians: “My whole body is tired.” For years, hospitals have been targeted by airstrikes in contested parts of Syria, leaving millions without access to healthcare. You stepped into that gap, sending mobile clinics into Syria to reach families in places where there is no other means of primary medical care left. Each of these clinics can provide thousands of medical consultations every month.
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People like Ramadan (below), travel miles to wait in line for the mobile clinic. It is one of the only means of receiving medical care in some parts of Syria.
As the world debated how to respond, you showed up. You went to the frontlines with us, bringing mobile clinics, emergency supplies, and food for the displaced, the injured, and the hungry. 32 | Preemptive Love Coalition
And you’ve kept these clinics going—providing drivers, doctors, and social workers for each clinic, paying for gas and maintenance, and supplying medications and equipment. You put medicine into the hands of those who needed it. You relieve some of their burden. And you are standing with them as they figure out how to rebuild. The same mobile clinics that have served in Aleppo have also offered medical care, vaccinations, and medicine for people hundreds of miles away in Deir ez-Zor, a city that was besieged by ISIS. It was the first medical care many families have gotten in years. For thousands of Syrians on the frontlines of war, these mobile clinics provide the only medical care they can get. Once famous for its abundant farmland, eastern Ghouta is located just outside the Syrian capital of Damascus. Until recently it was an opposition stronghold. After more than five years of conflict, siege, and bombardment, Ghouta’s ground is ragged with destruction. The conflict between government and opposition forces pushed Ghouta families to the brink of starvation—many survived on just one meal a day. At the same time, families in nearby Damascus were frequently terrorized by mortars fired from inside Ghouta. Then in April, an alleged chemical attack thrust Ghouta into the global spotlight. As the world debated how to respond, you showed up. You went to the frontlines with us, bringing mobile clinics, emergency supplies, and food for the displaced, the injured, and the hungry.
Agile Medical Clinics At a clinic just outside Ghouta, you served over 76,000 people who were fleeing. In addition, we were able to send three smaller mobile clinics to the frontlines— essentially ambulances that provide urgent, primary care, not just transport patients. Two of these clinics operated within a mile of the site of the alleged chemical attack and closest to the fighting.
You helped staff these clinics with doctors, nurses, and drivers—and supply them with medicine. At the peak of the crisis, medical teams treated hundreds of patients every day, some with conflict-related injuries, some with chronic ailments. Most had gone years without access to proper medical care.
Arriving with Nothing
In addition to medical treatment, you’ve helped meet some of the most basic needs families have when fleeing war. Many Ghouta families did not choose to flee; they were forced to flee because of the fighting. They risked sniper and mortar fire from all sides to reach shelter. Most arrive with nothing, so you provided clothing, diapers, nutrition bars, and hygiene kits.
This Food Tastes Safe
You’ve supported large emergency kitchens near Ghouta and across Syria, feeding thousands of displaced families every day. These kitchens are staffed by locals, many of them displaced or vulnerable themselves. They are able to earn a much-needed income while providing much-needed food for their neighbors. A young boy told us, “This food tastes safe. It tastes like my home.” The conflict has now faded in Ghouta, but that doesn’t mean that everything is better. The humanitarian crisis is still very real and present. There are still thousands of families living at a summer camp that was quickly transformed into a crowded displacement camp. For many, the way home is not yet clear—or safe. For others still in Ghouta, living in damaged or destroyed homes with limited access to basic services, there is no way out for the time being. But we keep pressing in, together. Your love is on the ground. Your love is unmaking violence. Your love is rekindling hope for those who’ve lost everything to war. You are showing up to support mobile clinics and emergency relief. You are standing with us on the frontlines.
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Lighting the Way Back to Aleppo By Matt Willingham
hat happens when Syria’s civil war finally ends, after the last bomb is dropped and the last window shattered, and the cameras move on? When this seemingly endless war really does end, then what? Once the guns fall silent, how do communities begin to rebuild? How do families come home when there is nothing to come home to but darkness and the empty shell of a structure pockmarked by bullets and mortars? When families are without adequate housing because of war, nothing else in life works well. Those with no protection from the cold get sicker, and the most vulnerable—babies and the elderly—don’t always make it.
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Children have a harder time learning, whether in school or less formally at home. Parents have a difficult time finding work, because all of their energy goes into making sure their family survives. It was into this seemingly hopeless situation that you took action. You sent a group of local Syrian tradesmen on a mission: take dozens of homes in a bombed out Aleppo neighborhood and make them livable again. It was a pilot project—the first phase of a major rebuilding effort. We wanted to know what kind of impact we could have by making basic home repairs for families in need.
Generators help bring an Aleppo neighborhood back to life.
These generators restored power to an entire neighborhood of Aleppo laid waste by war. There was no “one size fits all” model here. Each home got different repairs, depending on the level of damage. Most homes needed new window glass and front doors, to provide a basic level of security and help keep out the cold. Other repairs included electrical wiring and waste water pipes, faucets and shower heads, light fixtures and paint. What good is a home with no electricity? So we provided generators that restored power to an entire neighborhood of Aleppo laid waste by war. It allowed families to stop renting and to move back home, freeing up money to be used for kids’ education, for medical expenses, for food and other necessary supplies.
Noora’s home was one of the houses in Aleppo to receive repairs. Noora, whose name means “light”, has shouldered a terrible burden. She carries this weight with grace. Heavy and light. Her world isn’t one or the other. When we visited her in her home in Aleppo, Noora went around the room, introducing us to each member of her family. “This is my mother. She is so sick and I must always be nearby to care for her.”
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“This is my daughter. See the scar on her chest? From when a bomb broke the glass window.”
little else. In one window only a single pane of glass survived the incessant blasts.
“This is my husband. He repaired refrigerators, but his tools were looted and now he has no work.”
But Noora told us how things are getting better, that hope is breaking in. People are coming home, her neighborhood is coming back to life, the economy is picking up, and her house is becoming more like a home.
Noora didn’t talk much about herself. Like most women we meet here in Syria, the burden she carries, the thing that threatens to crush her, is the wellbeing of her family. Constant bombing and the lack of food drove Noora’s family from their home in eastern Aleppo in 2014. After the four-year battle for Aleppo came to a decisive and deadly end, Noora and her husband returned to their neighborhood. “I came back home to find everything burned, destroyed, and broken. I found nothing in my house, not even doors and windows. Some walls are down, too, and the water taps don’t work.”
You had a lot to do with that. You provided the generators that power Noora’s house, keeping the lights on and the fridge running so it can cool pineapple juice they offer visitors. You helped repair windows, doors, and other fixtures and appliances in Noora’s house. The very window that exploded glass into Noora’s daughter—you repaired it.
Noora’s family, including her 83-year-old bedridden mother, suffered through the cold of last winter without proper shelter. When we met them, Noora told us, “We urgently need our house fixed. We cannot spend another winter like the past one. My mother complains that her heart hurts so much with the freezing wind blowing through the house.” Noora’s family lived in the shell of what used to be their home. The house still had walls and a roof, but
A small shop in Aleppo powered by generators you helped provide. Right: Noora has renewed hope for her family and their life. 36 | Preemptive Love Coalition
“I wish that others get the kind of help I did. You gave me the opportunity to close my door—even to have one. You made me feel human again.” Life isn’t suddenly perfect for Noora, now that her home is repaired. They are still a very long way from “normal.” But now she can close and lock her windows and doors at night. She can bathe in privacy. She can turn on a light in the evening—all the things we normally take for granted. She has a secure home base for rebuilding her life. Noora was visibly lighter as she talked about this. Her hope was evident. Noora hopes her husband can get back to doing his work selling vegetables to support the family. She hopes for healing and comfort for her daughter, her mother, and herself. She hopes for happier days ahead with financial stability and a reconnected family. You are turning a hollowed-out war zone back into something like home. You are helping whole communities come back together, allowing residents to focus on something more than survival.
As Noora said, “I wish that others get the kind of help I did. You gave me the opportunity to close my door— even to have one. You made me feel human again.” As families returned home to Aleppo, word got around: “There’s electricity. People are starting to go back.” As people return, so do businesses and, slowly, everything families need to flourish and be well. What was once rubble and emptiness is now barber shops, small markets, vegetable stands, and tea stalls. Families swarm the area, children play in the streets, men and women greet each other on the sidewalks. Possibility is dawning. The situation in Syria might feel hopeless and dark. But war is not the end of the story. We do not leave once the bombs stop falling. We stay—and help families remake their homes from the rubble of war.
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What if Thereâ€™s a Better Way?
Praying for Papers
Fighting for the Forgotten in Houston
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What if There’s a Better Way? by Kim Mierau
Two women, one Muslim and one Christian, forge a new path together in the wake of fear and polarization.
hen you think about the people you see on a regular basis, the people in your circle, those you meet for playdates or coffee, do they all look like you? Do they believe what you believe? Do they come from the same background?
In the same Florida town, Saadia, a Muslim-American, was also grappling with the results of the election. She felt fearful, isolated. Depressed and frustrated, she decided to use her forgotten gym membership to get out of the house and do something productive.
Anna, a Christian and a pastor’s wife, had been wrestling with these questions in her own life. She wasn’t satisfied with the homogeneity of her relationships. She wanted a change for her family, her kids—for them all to know the beauty and value of different cultures, races, and ethnicities. In the fall of 2016, unsettled by the divisive and inflammatory political rhetoric engulfing the country, Anna was moved to take action.
Saadia had just finished her Zumba class when Anna approached her.
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“I just wanted to see how you’re doing with everything that’s happening in the world today, I’m sure it’s got to be hard and I just want you to know you’re not alone. I’m standing with you.” The two cried and hugged, then began to talk. Anna shared her desire to start a group for women from
different backgrounds, offering a safe space for conversation and connection. “Let’s do it. We’ve got to do something,” Saadia affirmed. They decided to gather their friends and lead a group together. They called it “Women in Solidarity.” As their first meeting approached, Saadia and her Muslim friends felt nervous. They had never done something like this before. “Is it going to be weird? What if it’s uncomfortable? Will they try to convert us?” They weren’t sure what to expect.
takes a lot of intentionality to maintain and pursue those friendships that aren’t naturally in the same places. “We respect each other, but we don’t have to agree on everything to know peace is possible. We want to work toward peace in relationship, in real life, face-to-face.” Saadia sees that day in the gym as a pivotal moment in her life. She recognizes the courage it took for Anna to approach her—and her own bravery in responding. “I could have said thank you and gone on my way… But that day I needed someone to say something to me and I needed to respond back.”
Anna is quick to note that the aim of the group Anna, too, is grateful “The beauty of our shared is not conversion. It’s not for the way Saadia to convince someone humanity doesn’t mean we re s p on d e d . “I’m or to win an argument. so thankful for the lose our unique identities.” f r i e n d s h i p w i t h Their focus is to nurture re c on c i l i at i on an d Saadia. I didn’t want relationships across dividing lines. “It’s about all to do this alone. I wanted the way we lead it to of us, jointly growing together, understanding show the way: that we may look different, believe each other, growing in empathy and working differently, but we’re friends and we value each toward peace.” other and we’re committed to peace together.” At the first meeting, Saadia and Anna handed out packs of gum that read, “We women stick together.” They asked everyone to sit with someone they had never met before and to learn five things they had in common. “Look, we’re human. We do a lot of the same things,” Saadia told them. The room quickly filled with chatter and laughter as the women learned more about each other and began to connect. That was the first step. The group decided to start meeting regularly.
As they continue meeting and growing their group, they are hopeful for the future. “If every town in America had a Preemptive Love chapter where these conversations and relationships can take root, it really could change the world and spread peace.” Saadia and Anna are standing on the frontlines in Florida, pursuing peace through relationship, reaching across dividing lines. They are taking small, brave steps, widening their circle, choosing to see the “other” as a friend, a neighbor, a partner in remaking the world. And we can too—all of us.
It’s not always easy—they have no illusions about that. “It’s hard to intersect lives,” Anna says. “It
Anna (bottom left) and Saadia (bottom right) pursue reconciliation and relationship across dividing lines in their Frontline Chapters group. Preemptive Love Coalition | 41
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Praying for Papers By Erica Griffith
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Juli embodies the idea of preemptive love in every conversation, every relationship.
hen she was three years old, Juliana moved from Colombia to Tennessee. Her parents worked all hours cleaning houses and doing odd jobs in order to send Juli and her sister to a Christian high school. Her mother’s work-induced back pain served as a physical reminder to Juli of how deeply her mother cared for her. From as early as she could remember, Juli’s prayer was for papeles (papers)—a prayer that lingered in her mind constantly and brought continual anxiety. Juli’s family is undocumented. From the outside, her parents live like their neighbors: paying taxes, providing for their kids, cooking delicious dinners. The papeles—or lack of them—are the only difference between Juli and her peers. High school was a proving ground for Juli’s identity. She kept her immigration status to herself and learned to tell people what they wanted to hear. More often than not, Juli found herself wishing for white skin— for the privileges and ease of life it granted her white friends. She would imagine not having to answer so many questions, and generally fitting in at her mostly-white school. When a mentor explained that she was “third culture” and had the freedom to choose aspects of both her Colombian and American heritage, Juli came to love the unique and beautiful combination she could build. After years of feeling caught between two cultures, she takes more pride in her identity now. “Maybe I don’t look it or don’t have proof of being American, but I feel it.” She turned this concept into her college application essay.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was introduced the year Juli turned 17. It enabled children of undocumented immigrants to become eligible for work permits and a renewable two-year reprieve from deportation. Juli and her mom spent two months gathering materials—receipts, paperwork, etc.—to prove she and her sister had been in the US every single month since elementary school. Imagine trying to find proof of where you lived and what you did every month for the last 15 years. The process was time consuming and demanding, but ultimately rewarding. After paying the $495 fee, Juli received her first US-issued identification. DACA recipients have to renew their status every two years and they still face major limitations. When it came to applying for college, Juli wasn’t eligible for in-state tuition at Tennessee universities, since she technically didn’t have in-state residency. She was ineligible for federal student aid, loans, and almost all scholarships, including ones set aside for international students. Though her grades and activities normally would have earned her sizeable merit checks for college, she had to limit her application pool. Lipscomb University was the only school that had a scholarship based solely on ACT scores and grades. Juli is striving to be an exemplary US resident. She’s extending the thoughtful kindness and active listening that she didn’t personally experience in high school. She volunteers at a nearby women’s prison, acts as a Spanish translator for a local clinic, and is learning Arabic with some of her new refugee friends. All the things she was denied she’s now intentionally pursuing: asking questions, listening well, being Preemptive Love Coalition | 45
gracious. Juli dreams of traveling the world and providing holistic healthcare to young mothers, survivors of rape, and women coming out of prostitution. Her life embodies an intentional choice to love anyway. She now has a rich community of friends of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures.
Juli is determined to prove that documents do not define us, and that papeles (or a lack of them) should not determine how we treat one another. Colombian by birth, American by upbringing, Juli got asked “why” questions a lot. “Juli, why don’t you have your license yet?”
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“Why can’t you go on the international mission trip?” So it only makes sense that the first time a friend asked Juli, “What’s it like?” everything changed. To Juli, it felt like no one cared to ask. High school isn’t always a place where people feel heard and nurtured by their friends. It’s one of our most formative experiences, but so often we leave scarred, hardened, and happy to be anywhere else. But one sunny afternoon, Juli’s high school friend Savannah asked her a simple question. “What was it like for you to grow up being an immigrant?” Savannah asked, out of the blue. Unable to control it, Juli began to cry. It was her senior year. She had gone to school with these people for four years. Yet this was the first time in her life that a friend wanted to hear her story. That feeling of being loved brought her to an emotional breaking point.
“Maybe I don’t look it or don’t have proof of being American, but I feel it.” – Juli
She realized she has a story worth sharing. She grew in confidence in explaining her story—about how she felt different, even at the age of three when her parents immigrated. How she felt American but couldn’t hide what she looked like. How she eventually came around to identifying as Colombian. She gained more pride in her different experiences instead of envying the sameness she noticed in high school. And most importantly, Juli learned how to ask questions of “the other” in her own circles.
Regardless of how she is treated by others, Juli continues to live according to her values—extending to others what she is often denied. Whether it’s the inmates at the women’s prison where she volunteers, the politicians who think she should be deported, or her refugee friends, Juli embodies the idea of preemptive love in every conversation, every relationship. Choosing to love anyway is not about who “they” are. It’s about who we want to be.
What if we were better at asking questions? Who would feel more loved? It’s often a ripple effect. People are drawn to genuine people. When someone feels loved by your questions, more stories will come pouring in. Each person is a wealth of experiences. We have the power to make people feel welcome or unwelcome. Loved or unloved. Understood or misunderstood. Valued or devalued. Heard or ignored. Seen or unseen. Praying for Papers | 47
Fighting for the Forgotten in Houston By Courtney Christenson
Preemptive Love isn’t just for the Middle East or for the war zones. It can be lived out every day and everywhere by everyone. The frontlines are where we live.
No one’s come When we came knocking on doors in Mateo’s post-Harvey Houston neighborhood, there were mixed reactions. Our armfuls of paperwork and matching t-shirts probably looked frighteningly official to the many undocumented families in the area. Some understandably refused to open their doors for us. But we weren’t even halfway up Mateo’s driveway before he came out to greet us. He told us no one had come to help in his neighborhood. “No one?” we asked. “No. No one’s come,” Mateo answered. “FEMA was here, but they didn’t help us. They didn’t even want to see my shop.” Mateo is an entrepreneur and a mechanic. His shop takes up the entire back half of his property and business was good before the storm. But the whole shop flooded with several feet of water during the storm. His air compressor, tools, and vehicle manuals were not spared. He’d carefully laid his manuals in the sun to dry, but he knew the truth—they were probably ruined. As we surveyed the extensive damage inside Mateo’s home, he told us about his oldest son—now a freshman in college— who is a science genius. He explained that his son had been accepted into Harvard and offered a scholarship, but Mateo still couldn’t afford the tuition. So now he’s studying chemistry at a community college down the road. Mateo is so proud of him.
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Mateo indicates how high the water reached inside his home. Preemptive Love Coalition | 49
Mateo’s 17-year-old daughter is a junior in high school, and he’s immensely proud of her dedication to ROTC. He recently built an addition onto their home—a place for his children to study—but that room flooded during the storm, like everything else. In a photo on the fridge in Mateo’s kitchen: his youngest child, smiling over a sign where he’d written what he wants to be when he grows up: a soldier. These people, this family, they are the best of America. Mateo is an entrepreneur who tangibly contributes to his community and our economy. His children are patriots and academics. And his precious 10-year-old son wants to fight for our country… so why shouldn’t our country fight for them? Why should they be abandoned? Why should they be forgotten? What makes them less deserving?
Is it that they’re not rich? Or that they’re brown? Or that they’re undocumented? But we belong to each other. As we were saying goodbye to Mateo, after finishing the tour of his home and shop, he shook our hands and said, “Thank you for coming. And thank you for listening—it makes me feel less alone because you care. I hope to see you again. I hope you come back.” With your help, we did come back. Multiple times. You helped provide clean cases of water for Mateo and his family and to sanitize his well. Through your giving we were able to extend Mateo an empowerment grant— much like the ones we provide for refugee families in Iraq—so he could start putting his shop back together. Friends like Mateo don’t want a handout. They don’t want someone to fix it all for them. They want to be seen. They want to know that others are standing alongside them, shoulder to shoulder. They want to know their voice is heard, that it matters.
Mateo’s precious 10-year-old son wants to fight for our country… so why shouldn’t our country fight for them?
Left: Mateo’s youngest son wants to be a soldier when he grows up. Right: Mateo tried to salvage as much as he could from his flooded garage.
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Don’t drink the water The lack of help wasn’t the only problem facing undocumented families in this Houston neighborhood. During our first visit, families told us stories about bad-smelling, brown water.
Can you imagine the weight of that, knowing you had been drinking such dirty water, giving it to your kids, mixing it with your baby’s formula?
Going where no one else will go to love the people no one else will love—it doesn’t just mean dodging bullets and providing food for starving families in the This neighborhood wasn’t Middle East. Sometimes it means dealing with toxic, even included on the list of contaminated water right potentially contaminated here in the US.
The county knew there would be contaminated water in some areas after the storm, so they made free water testing available to everyone—but nothing about the process areas until we called—they was easy, especially for residents who don’t have It’s translating and were literally forgotten about. reliable transportation or distributing fliers, testing speak English. The pick-up water, and bringing in and drop-off site was miles away, instructions were plumbers. It’s calling the county to advocate, to get only available in English, one of the steps required a garbage picked up, to learn about resources, and to blowtorch, and the entire process had to be done three shine a light on an overlooked neighborhood. It’s times over. delivering case after case of clean water, so that nobody has to worry about what they’re drinking. No one had completed the testing. It’s getting your hands dirty to help the ones who need So we set out to collect samples on behalf of these it most. The ones without papers, transportation, clean families. We got the results a couple days later: more water, sanitation, or representation. than half of the samples we collected came back positive for E. coli and total coliforms—in short, dirt and human fecal matter.
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Fixing more than houses
Our volunteers chose to love anyway. At every turn.
More than three months after Hurricane Harvey, much of the world had moved on. That didn’t stop more than 50 volunteers from showing up to rebuild homes in Houston, days before Christmas.
They came even though they didn’t have any reason to love people they’d never met. They chose to love anyway when we asked for help right before Christmas, with very little notice. They chose to love anyway when we took them to a local mosque and asked them to listen and learn from those who are different from them. They chose to love anyway when we visited a low-income neighborhood after dark and asked them to make friends with people who didn’t speak their language. They chose to love anyway as they pulled poorly-aimed staples out of their hands and coughed up drywall dust.
It was proof that anything can be done with preemptive love—even construction. Volunteers flew from 13 states and drove from all over Texas to hang sheetrock, swing hammers, and put in long days of manual labor for those affected by Hurricane Harvey. But they did so much more than rebuild houses… they went out of their way to love. Our volunteers didn’t just fix up six houses in four days. They didn’t just save each homeowner between $15,000 and $20,000—money these families did not have. They didn’t just help families return home safely in time for Christmas. And they didn’t just rebuild lives, families, and futures. They unmade violence, loved across enemy lines, moved towards the “other” and waged peace. Our volunteers lived preemptive love. They were preemptive love.
Their reward was watching violence unmade right before their eyes. Not just the violence of a hurricane, but also the violence of illness and prejudice. Our volunteers built friendships and created a more inclusive love where there used to be “otherness” and division. In the span of four days, they gained the confidence to go and love where they live because they experienced how it can change us and the world around us. Our volunteers showed up even though it’s rarely convenient and almost never easy. For nearly half our volunteers, showing up in Houston meant flying during the busiest (and most expensive) time of year with very little notice. Volunteers showed up from across the country to live and be preemptive love in Houston.
The majority were women, and this trip meant traveling alone, leaving children, and stepping into the unknown. It meant signing up to hang sheetrock when they had no experience, trusting we would teach them like we said we would. It was a sacrifice. But they showed up. And in return, they got to love and be loved by the people whose homes they were fixing—cry with them, laugh with them, and see the change in their demeanor as their houses were put back together. It’s amazing how much hope families gained with each piece of sheetrock screwed into place. Our volunteers got to help remake the world for these families and their communities. But change is only sustainable if it empowers—if it restores dignity to those we serve, if it allows them to continue moving forward after we leave.
more than 60 people. We were tempted to refuse, to say it was too much. But this was their way of saying thank you with dignity. To stand on their own two feet and serve us, instead of always being the ones saying “thank you.” To refuse would have been to retain our place of power as the giver. It would be the opposite of empowerment. So we showed up with our crew and ate some of the best Mexican food we’ve ever had. We thanked them profusely, let them serve us, and asked for a tour of their new home. We were equals. Friends. Full of mutual respect. Because this isn’t charity. This is relationship. The frontlines are here, too. And when we show up, hearts are changed—including ours.
In Houston, this reality hit home when one of the families we helped asked if they could provide dinner for our entire group of volunteers, partners, and staff—
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E M P OWE R M E NT
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Creating Home for Her Family
A More Peaceful Future
More Than Surviving
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Left to Right: Eman, Shireen, GozĂŞ, Faris Read their stories on page 59
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Creating Home for
Her Family By Erin Wilson
Eman has a warm and hopeful smile—it lights up the room. She chats happily in the workshop where she makes candles, in the company of other makers. Eman has this way of making others feel at home. Eman speaks about her daughter with fierce mama-love. “It was my responsibility when I got married, when I gave birth to her…
I needed to raise her, safe and secure.” After just one year of marriage, Eman found herself young, divorced, and raising a daughter alone. Eman devoted her life to raising her daughter herself. In Iraq, this is a very big deal. The radical decision to not remarry meant also committing to live with her siblings—women particularly do not live alone in Iraq.
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Everything she has done in life has been for her daughter—for raising her well. She shares her experience and hard-gained wisdom with her daughter, as her mother did with her, as her daughter raises her own children. When her daughter married, Eman could start thinking about her own hopes. She started making candles to finally do something of her own. We ask Eman what she dreams of for herself. She answers in broken English, eyes welling with tears: “Just for me—house.” It’s been her hope for a long time to have a small house just for herself. Houses in her city are very expensive, and Eman knows her dream might always be out of reach. The money she currently earns making candles doesn’t provide much to save. But these candles provide Eman what she needs to make a home. And Eman hopes that, one day, candles will provide what she needs to make a house, too.
Faris has a disease that makes it impossible for him to do heavy manual labor. By making Kinsman Soap, he is able to earn a living wage, provide for his growing family, and invest in his future. With your help, Shireen started a sewing business, allowing her to feed and care for her family. Through hard work and determination, she is now opening a second sewing shop. When we first met Gozê, she was living in a shipping container in a field. Her handmade bars of Sisterhood Soap have been distributed across Iraq and around the world, enabling Gozê and her family to rent their own home and delight in the life they have reclaimed.
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Sisterhood Candles Hand-Hammered Copper 1
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Gifts To Remake Your Home And Theirs 1
Sisterhood Knits, Peace Doll, from $25
Sisterhood Candles, Warm Fig, $30
Love Anyway Hat, Navy or Olive, $24
Sisterhood Soap, Chamomile, $10
Sisterhood Candles, 3-inch Copper, $45
Sisterhood Soap, Fig & Date, $10
Sisterhood Soap, Sunset Soap, $10
Sisterhood Soap, 100% Pure Olive Oil, $10
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Kinsman Soap, Activated Charcoal, $10
Kinsman Soap, Patchouli & Orange, $10 3
Kinsman Soap, Lemongrass, $10
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1 2 3
Love Anyway Sweatshirt, $45 Love Anyway Enamel Pin, $8 “Love the People” Green Typographic Dot Journal, $16 Sisterhood Candles, Mosaic Road Ceramic, 6-inch, $58
Sisterhood Candles, Mosaic Road Ceramic, 4-inch, $48 Sisterhood Candles, Mosaic Road Ceramic, 3-inch, $38 Preemptive Love Established Mug, $24 “Love Anyway” Socks, Pink Hearts, $15
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Job Creation By Erin Wilson
A tale of two shops in post-war Mosul When Waad and Sadam came back to their neighborhood in the heart of Mosul, it was in ruins. There was no electricity, no water. Their homes were gone, their businesses torched. The real damage for both men was far more extensive than the loss of their properties: it was losing the ability to support their families, their children. With the empowerment grants they received, both men were able to open their business again.
Waad again offers the kind of fresh foods that make up a large part of the Iraqi diet: fresh cream and yogurt, eggs, and pastries. Sadam stocks his grocery store across the street with shelf-stable food and supplies. These stores, filled with simple merchandise, are a catalyst for further neighborhood renewal. As people return, new businesses pop up, welcomed by the hope shining in the open storefronts of places like Waad and Sadamâ€™s shops.
Above: Waad and Sadamâ€™s reopened shops 66 | Preemptive Love Coalition
During the fierce battle to defeat ISIS, many communities in Iraq were utterly devastated. A legacy of her own
The Blessing Shop
Fatima and her husband had been married for 15 years when he was killed by ISIS. Together they were raising three boys, from 12 to 5-years-old.
Sabeha’s son, Mohammad, was unable to walk. She and her family wanted to return to their home near Fallujah, but they needed to be able to support themselves and they needed access to physical therapy for Mohammad.
Fatima’s husband was a successful sheep speculator— he would buy underpriced sheep and then sell them for a higher price. So when you provided the start-up capital for Fatima’s business, she knew exactly what to do: she invested in her first livestock to resell. Fatima has been growing her business for a year now and earns enough to support her sons. There isn’t much left over at the end of each month, but they’re getting by. Fatima is using the knowledge she learned from her husband to support her family—in a way, his memory is carried on through her work. But more than that, Fatima has created a legacy of her own, one she can share with her boys. She has proven that she is capable of far more than she knew.
Before going back, Mohammad’s father spent hours with his son’s therapist, learning how to provide Mohammad’s physical therapy himself. And together we provided Sabeha a business grant to open a shop in their village, allowing them to move back home. Sabeha named her store The Blessing Shop. Today, with the help of doctors and therapists, his father, medication, and his own determination, Mohammad is walking. And The Blessing Shop, the only store for women in Sabeha’s village, is doing well. Sabeha enjoys taking care of her customers. But most of all, she enjoys caring for her family, one of the many blessings of her shop.
Left: Fatima and her son Right: Sabeha in her Blessing Shop Job Creation | 67
The WorkWell program starts with two weeks of intensive English classes.
A More Peaceful Future Starts Here By Erin Wilson
“We believe that the people in and of themselves have everything that they need to be successful. And if we can just help unlock that dream through conversation and come alongside and help to build up whatever it is they need for their business…[then] they have everything they need to make those businesses a success.” Jessica Courtney
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Preemptive Love Coalition founder Jessica Courtney stood in front of a room filled with expectant faces. It was the first day of class at our third WorkWell campus, in a part of Iraq that hosts the largest refugee camp in the country.
Beyond training and employment, though, WorkWell is a safe and accepting community for people of all backgrounds. Christians. Muslims. Yazidis. Kurds. Syrians. Iraqis. They gather side-by-side every day in our spaces across Iraq.
WorkWell is an innovative tech space where displaced and vulnerable Syrians and Iraqis are becoming entrepreneurs, coders, and freelancers. Some students have university degrees already, while others were forced to drop out of high school—in each case, their future was disrupted because of ISIS or war. WorkWell is where they can access the digital marketplace and reclaim their future.
We don’t pretend these differences don’t exist. Peacemaking isn’t about ignoring the things that make us different. It’s about celebrating and accepting our differences and recognizing the dignity that is common in all of us.
The training students receive is not the main focus of WorkWell. It’s not the point. WorkWell is about the students—helping them find paid work, helping them see a new future.
There’s been intense conflict and violence between these groups throughout Iraq’s history. We haven’t talked specifically about our dream for WorkWell to embody the more peaceful future we envision for Iraq—that it would be the beginning of the end of violence between religious and cultural groups. We simply try to live it out.
In any war, teenagers and young adults are some of the most vulnerable, as they are unable to finish high school or university and have been thrust to the margins. WorkWell allows them to access new careers in coding, design, and freelancing. Preemptive Love Coalition | 69
More Than Surviving By Erin Wilson
arwa, a Syrian refugee, doesn’t have much hope left for her home country. She experienced too much before she fled the war. She has lost too many loved ones.
Marwa loves that she can work and study from home, and still spend as much time as possible with her son. Learning accounting and web design has allowed her to start earning an income now.
But she has hope for herself—and her son, Adam.
Like most displaced moms, Marwa hopes for the stability of living in one place for her son, not having to move all the time. She wants to make her own home for Adam and herself. She wants Adam to go to a good school, for him to know English and art and music, to have hobbies and interests. She wants him to thrive.
Marwa is a recent graduate of WorkWell, where she learned tech skills, web design, and freelancing. She packs her days, morning to night, with hard work. Most mornings she studies accounting at a local university, working toward her degree. In the afternoons, she works part-time at WorkWell. She doesn’t have university classes on Thursdays, so she teaches computers at the high school in the refugee camp where she lives. Her evenings are spent studying accounting or tech skills.
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Thrive. Not just survive. Marwa may be a stranger, a refugee in this country. But she is learning skills that will allow her to achieve her dreams, to make a life for herself and Adam. Through WorkWell, Marwa is able to move beyond simple existence and truly flourish.
Ahmad was just 16-years-old when he fled his family home in Syria, alone. He escaped capture by militants, then was interrogated and beaten by Turkish soldiers— before managing to flee to Iraq, to safety. Ahmad works hard, splitting his days between high school classes and WorkWell. He is building his tech and freelancing skills. Instead of death and war, Ahmad is seeing possibility and opportunity.
Like most young adults, Heve wanted to find something that excited her. After fleeing Syria, she came to WorkWell. Soon Heve discovered that she’s gifted in computer skills and coding, numbers and patterns. Heve loves working with computers. During her time at WorkWell, Heve has found the admiration of her husband, the friendship of classmates, and the joy of knowing what makes her heart sing.
Nawal was a manager of a private language institute back in Syria. Her life was stable and full of promise. Then ISIS came and Nawal’s world was turned upside down. Nawal and her family fled to Iraq. Through WorkWell, Nawal is reclaiming stability for her family and learning IT, freelancing, and English. She is finding the promise of a new life.
Yasser, now 21 and miles away from his home in Syria, keenly feels the burden placed on the shoulders of young refugee men to help support their families. Hardworking, unafraid of responsibility, and committed to serving his family, Yasser completed his WorkWell studies and secured a full-time job thanks to the skills he gained at WorkWell.
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We’re Not The Answer To Other People’s Problems. They Are. It’s one of the hardest, most important, and most rewarding lessons we’ve learned in our ten years of living and serving in the Middle East: Real peace—lasting, sustainable change—only happens when people are able to own their future. Love shows up when the bullets fly, when the bombs drop. But then love gets out of the way—because we come to realize that we are not the solution to other people’s problems. They are. Local problems need local solutions. We can be the conduit, but local people—and local partners—are the answer. That is why we are a coalition. It’s not just our name, it’s everything. By partnering locally, we are collectively able to accomplish much more than we ever could alone. We were helping Iraqi children get lifesaving medical care— something the local health system was ill-equipped to provide due to years of destabilizing conflict.
Everything we do is about building local capacity, investing in local institutions, and strengthening communities that will endure well after we are gone. Our local staff, friends, and partners extend the reach of what we can do in any one place. They get us into places we couldn’t reach without their influence. They help us stay longer and do more than we ever could have done by ourselves.
We are a coalition of people working to unmake violence and remake our world with the hope that someday, this work will no longer be needed.
Then, in 2014, the earth shifted under our feet. ISIS stormed across Iraq. City after city fell. Our team had to make a decision: Do we leave? Carry on doing the same thing as if nothing had changed? Or do we engage this new crisis unfolding on our doorstep? We chose to stay and engage. We started going to frontline conflict zones all over Iraq with lifesaving food, water, and medical care for those caught in the middle of the conflict. We started providing jobs and income and empowerment opportunities for those who fled and lost everything. We could not do this without our Iraqi staff, friends, and local partners. They know the people, places, needs, and solutions far better than anyone else. We knew we had to be in this together—with local people and local organizations—if we actually wanted to help. 72 | Preemptive Love Coalition
Today, we work shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends in Iraq and Syria. Not just because it’s necessary, but because we believe it’s the best way to work. We go into the hard places together, design our responses and programs together, empower people together. When we say “we,” we mean all of us together, collectively expanding the work that can be done.
Expanding our coalition expands our impact. Thinking of ourselves as something bigger than our own staff means we can accomplish things that are bigger than ourselves.
You are an integral part of this coalition. You expand our reach exponentially. When you join us—when you show hospitality or purchase refugee-made products in our store, when you fundraise, use your voice, join a frontline chapter, or give—you build something that will last. You help us work in more than one place at a time. You live out this idea of preemptive love. We depend on you to make our work possible, and we depend on our local partners to help us know how to use those resources most effectively. That is our coalition. That is how all of us—you, our staff at Preemptive Love, and our local partners—create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. We are a coalition of people working to unmake violence and remake our world with the hope that someday, this work will no longer be needed.
We are first in, last to leave. Hereâ€™s what makes us different.
Our Message Is Our Mission
Weâ€™re on the Frontlines, Not the Sidelines We Welcome All Because We Value Posture Over Position
We Focus On People, Not Problems
We Rely On Private Money, Not Political Money
We Build Up Local Organizations, Not Our Own We Build Reconciliation Into Our Development, and Development Into Our Aid.
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Refugee-made products SOAPS
$10 Sisterhood Soap, Chamomile
$10 Sisterhood Soap, 100% Olive Oil
$10 Sisterhood Soap, Sunset
Sisterhood Soap, Date & Fig
$10 Sisterhood Soap, Lemon Zest
$20 Sisterhood Soap, Chamomile Gift Set
$20 Sisterhood Soap, Olive Oil Gift Set
$35 Sisterhood Soap, Date & Fig Gift Set
$45 Sisterhood Soap, Fig, Date, Tea Towel Gift Set
$20 Sisterhood Soap, Lemon Kitchen Gift Set
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$45 Sisterhood Soap, Rainbow Tea Towel Gift Set
$45 Sisterhood Soap, Set of 5
$10 Kinsman Soap, Lemongrass
$10 Kinsman Soap, Patchouli & Orange
$35 Kinsman Soap, Charcoal Gift Set
$45 Kinsman Soap, Set of 5
$10 Kinsman Soap, Activated Charcoal
$28 Sisterhood Knits, Blue Tea Towel
$28 Sisterhood Knits, Rainbow Tea Towel
$80 Sisterhood Knits, Cream Baby Sweater
$120 Sisterhood Knits, Purple Baby Sweater
FROM $25 Sisterhood Knits, Peace Doll
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$45 Preemptive Love Dot Journal Combo Pack
$8 Imagine the More Beautiful World Enamel Pin
$16 Love the People Green Dot Journal
$16 Rooted Heart Blue Dot Journal
$16 Love Cannot Be Silent Black Dot Journal
$8 Preemptive Love Enamel Pin
$8 Mending with Love Enamel Pin
$8 People Matter Most Enamel Pin
$8 Remaking the World Enamel Pin
$8 Love Anyway Enamel Pin
$24 Love Anyway Green Hat
$24 Love Anyway Blue Hat
$15 Love Anyway Heart Socks
$15 Love Anyway Hands Socks
Get a free enamel pin with code PINFORYOU at checkout!
$8 Preemptive Love Coalition Sticker Pack
$15 Love Cannot Be Silent Bandana
$24 Preemptive Love Established Mug
$15 Love Anyway Logo Socks
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GEE REFU E MAD
FROM $45 Sisterhood Candles, Hand-Hammered Copper
FROM $38 Sisterhood Candles, Ceramic Mosaic Road
FROM $38 Sisterhood Candles, Ceramic Garden
$30 Sisterhood Candles, Warm Fig
$25 Love Across Enemy Lines Heather Indigo T-Shirt
$25 Love Across Enemy Lines Heather White T-Shirt
$25 Love Cannot Be Silent Heather Black T-Shirt
$25 Love Anyway, Bold Heather White T-Shirt
$25 Love Anyway, Bold Heather Grey T-Shirt
$25 Preemptive Love Coalition Heather Grey T-Shirt
$30 People Matter Most Heather Grey Long Sleeve
$30 People Matter Most Black Long Sleeve
$45 Love Anyway Heather Grey Sweatshirt
$44 Preemptive Love Jogger
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Donâ€™t miss the refugee-made gifts inside! FREE ENAMEL PIN! see p. 15
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