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Testimony: Khadija's story

08-03-2002

Because of the endless conflict, thousands of women like Khadija arrive in Rabia'a every year. How does a woman like Khadija pay for food and fuel?

An old woman recently called on the ICRC's relief department in Rabia'a, Iraq. She had grey hair, and her weakness and exhaustion betrayed her poverty. Her name was Khadija. Nine years ago, her husband died. She was 40 years old at the time and became the head of her family of six children. They were forced to leave their home when fighting broke out in their region, but had been fortunate enough to find a small brick house on the outskirts of Rabia'a. When asked how she managed to survive, Khadija explained that her oldest son Amjad had a job in a garage, where he earned the equivalent of eight US dollars a month.

Because of the endless conflict, thousands of women like Khadija arrive in Rabia'a every year. The local authorities provide them with food and fuel coupons, but it takes time to complete the formalities. Khadija started the procedures, but she and her family needed to heat their house and to eat while waiting for the coupons. In Rabia'a, a single barrel of fuel costs 30 dollars.

How, then, does a woman like Khadija pay for food and fuel? Every morning at dawn, she sets out in search of work on the farms around her new home, and does not return before sunset. " Working conditions are very hard, " she says. " There is no letup all day long, and hardly anything to eat — a piece of bread, some vegetables and water — until finally the day is over. I sometimes take my eldest daughter along in spite of the hard work, so that she can be in the open air and meet the other workers and especially the owners of the farms — this way she will be able to replace me if I ever get sick ... or die. "    

Working on the farms, Khadija can earn up to 30 dollars a month. She is not happy to leave the children alone, however. " They need their mother with them. They need to be educated. I cannot stop worrying that something will happen to them. The children need the permanent presence of their mother in the house, especially now that their father is gone. What will happen if any of them turns out bad? " Because of the family's present circumstances, schooling for the children is materially impossible. " The younger girls stay at home all day long and take care of their youngest brother, but my hope is that some of the city's rich families will take them in, to bake bread or clean their houses and wash their dishes. Or they could go work in a factory, but they could get sick there because the conditions are extremely hard, and — after all — they are only children. "

A few days after Khadija's visit to the ICRC office, she was given assistance in meeting her basic needs.

* Names have been changed to conceal identities and avoid misinterpretations.