I think I've mentioned before that one aspect of Heartland Alliance's Access to Justice Project is outreach. There are a number of outreach projects: Know Your Rights brochures and pamphlets for distribution, radio and TV public service announcements and newspaper coverage. However, the most important outreach activity are the Mobile Legal Clinic outreach sessions which allow us to reach dozens of people at a time. The Mobile Legal Clinics -- one each in the Governorates of Duhok and Sulaimaniya -- visit organizations, schools, jails, women's shelters, reformatories and other places where there are persons who may be in vulnerable situations. During these outreach sessions, our lawyers and social workers may make a presentation on a topic of interest, answer questions about legal and other rights, and/or have one-on-one consultations. In addition to visits in the cities of Sulaimaniya and Duhok, the Mobile Legal Clinics also go into rural and other areas in the governorates where arguably the need is the greatest, because it is in these areas where tribal law or other informal means of "justice" may often operate in ways which deprive vulnerable Iraqis, particularly women, of access to true justice.
Recently I was able to attend one of the Mobile Legal Clinic outreach visits at the Kurdistan Disabled Persons Union in Sulaimaniya, where I was the recipient of such gracious hospitality. After spending time with Kak Omer, the Union's president, who is wonderful -- informative and welcoming (which has been my near universal experience with the Kurdish people), I toured the shop where women members are making handicrafts to sell (and I was able to pick up a holiday gift or two). Kak Omer had asked the lawyers to give a simple-to understand summary of legislation which protects the rights of the disabled. After their presentation and questions, one-on-one consultations were available.
Although many members of the Union have congenital disabilities, I was told that the majority of members are physically disabled as a result of mines and bombs. After I asked what conflict the mines and bombs were from, I realized that the Kurdish people have lived with violence in their lives for decades. In the 70's it was the Kurdish revolution for independence; in the 80's it was the war with Iran and the Anfal; in the 90's it was the first Gulf War and the Kurdish civil war; and in the 00's it was the US invasion against Saddam Hussein. One of my Heartland colleagues recently said "we are the generation of war." In a future blog post I'm going to explore what that means but the impact of decades of violence has had significant effects, both physical and emotional.
On a less somber note, one of the things I've notice about living here is that there are more birds and butterflies than in previous cities I have lived. Because of pollution, loss of habitat and other modern incursions, I found that butterflies and birds (other than pigeons and crows) are often rare in the US and the UK, even in parks and gardens. It's lovely waking up to a songbird's trill and catching a glimpse of a brightly colored butterfly in a land that has experienced such tragedy.