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    One of the Iraqi children who received one of Riyadh's wheelchairs

Riyadh sends 327 wheelchairs to Iraqi children

Image: One of the Iraqi children who received one of Riyadh's 100 wheelchairs, sent by him to the SAMAWA Human Rights organisation in 2005.

With the help of mining company Woodside Petroleum, a Perth wheelchair manufacturer, the Murdoch University Student Guild and Students without Borders, Perth-based Iraqi student Riyadh Al Hakimi successfully sent 327 wheelchairs to Iraqi children - who are injured as a result of the war - many of them in Riyadh's hometown Najaf.

Riyadh sends 327 wheelchairs to Iraqi children

Students Without Borders Magazine
Spring 2008
by Gerry Georgatos

Gerry Georgatos is one of the co-ordinators of Students Without Borders and of the Social Justice Centre at Murdoch University, and the General Manager of the Murdoch University Student Guild. Gerry completed degrees in media and in philosophy, with postgraduate qualifications in human rights education, and he's currently completing two Masters, one in Social Justice Advocacy and the other in Human Rights. The story of the 327 wheelchairs will be published under the title "Riyadh Al Hakimi, 25 years old and 327 children's wheelchairs to Iraq" in the first edition of the Students Without Borders magazine later this spring.


16 October 2005: Gerry Georgatos on Australia's "refugee crisis" - "...current designs are shit, the rich exploit the poor, the few are sheltered from the many, if people in their hearts aren't evil their ways are evil, this system isn't working, and lies are manifest and swallowed..."

Mozambique and then Angola were known, proportionately, as the children amputees capitals of our world. Children soldiers, land mines, villagers and most journeys by foot unlike the OECD countries and their onus on heavy duty transport and telecommunications.

These regions of our world do not have the same urban and regional infrastructure such as Australia. Most of these countries' towns and villages do not have bitumen but rather dirt paths and trails. These paths are not easily manageable by the fold up wheelchairs that are donated to the amputees, but at least children and adults afflicted by amputations are able to extend from a confine within the home and the absolute dependency on others.

Most children amputees in non-OECD countries are victims of wars, those evil scourges delivered through bullets, explosives, bombs, land mines and missiles. Since the first Iraq/American (and their 'Coalition') 'war' till present, it is Iraq that is tragically challenging Angola for the highest proportion of amputees, for the highest proportion of child amputees, for the highest proportion of civilian casualties of war.

Some regions have been devastated by the warring. Regions of Iraq are tragically challenging other specific regions of the world for the highest proportion of amputees. The war on Iraq has been devastating, with many towns having lost a member from every family, many families now single parent or with orphaned children, most families having to tend for family members with physical impairments as a result of bombings and cross fire. Caring for them in a country with limited welfare, very few support functions and infrastructure.

Curtin University and Murdoch University students through Students Without Borders have been busy co-ordinating awareness campaigns as to the plight of these people. They have also worked on managing as many resources as they can to send to Iraq to help as many, but in the scheme of things it is the few, as they can.

One International Relations Studies student from Curtin University, 25 year old Riyadh Al Hakimi, a former Iraqi national, has for a number of years been working on ensuring a campaign of awareness. Riyadh is from the southern town of Najaf, where the amputees are proportionately high. There are not enough wheelchairs in Iraq for provision of them to these people. It is a nightmare existence. A couple of years ago Riyadh organised for 100 children's wheelchairs to be sent to the Iraqi towns of Najaf and Samara.

Last year Riyadh approached me to see if we, Students Without Borders, could assist in the transport of more than 200 children's wheelchairs to Iraq. Ultimately, over the period of a year to coordinate this transport, Riyadh managed 327 children's wheelchairs. The Gnangara (Perth) wheelchair manufacturer, Wheelchairs For Kids, was obviously touched by the plight of these young children, by these people, that they donated 327 brand new fold up children's wheelchairs. After I was able to organise the transport for them, the staff volunteered their time on a Saturday to pack them and help load them into the transport.

We had problems organising a shipping container to Basra, Iraq. There weren't many shipping companies prepared to take on the job. Students Without Borders and the Murdoch University Guild of Students throughout the last couple of years that I have been co-ordinator of one and the General Manager of the other, have shipped many containers of recycled goods, such as computers, clothing, books, etc., without too many problems to various regions of the world. This was the first time we stumbled upon such an impediment.

Riyadh approached Woodside Petroleum who declared they would pay for any transport costs and provide as many other goods as possible for the container. Riyadh then approached government ministers till finally one Senator, Senator Chris Evans, assisted by approaching the Australian Defence Forces. Riyadh continued on with the ADF who agreed to fly the wheelchairs into Kuwait and from there escort them to the three towns Riyadh had nominated, Najaf, Samara and Ramadi. Riyadh would be part of the escort to these towns.

We organised for the transport of the containers from Wheelchairs For Kids in Gnagara, Perth, and onwards to an ADF base in Sydney. From Sydney they would be flown out.

Riyadh explained to me, that Najaf and Samara are predominately Shi'ite and that Ramadi is predominately Sunni. A couple of years ago when the Shi'ite Riyadh entered Ramadi with other Shi'ite volunteer workers one of them was beaten up and all felt the physical threat. Nevertheless, though it maybe argued that it is dangerous for him to enter Ramadi again, Riyadh believes that donating a little over 100 of the wheelchairs through the local hospital Ramadi is an important gesture of goodwill and pursuant of reconciliation.

Riyadh has often described an Iraq before all the warring where there was no issue with whether one was Sunni or Shi'ite and that there were marriages between the denominations. Yes, the government was predominately Sunni and there were feelings but there was nothing as entrenched and as divisive as there is now. Ordinary people mixed with one another and went about their everyday business. Riyadh notes it was predominately the Western World that wrote up in their domestic and international media the presumed conflicts between Sunni and Shi'ite. It reminds me of the Balkans where for the most part people lived with each other, married freely and the graven divisions have only transpired with the help of a transnational and international media.

I have never forgotten what Riyadh once said to me, "Till all this warring started in Iraq, no-one ever asked me whether I am Sunni or Shi'ite. Never."

As a co-ordinator of Students Without Borders, the Social Justice Centres and as the General Manager of the Murdoch University Student Guild, during the last 30 months I have been easily able to get some 200 articles in various newspapers and other literature, and have had published some 93 letters to the editor from 115 submissions. Unbelievably, I couldn't get the story of Riyadh's efforts and the 327 children's wheelchairs to Najaf, Samara and Ramadi published in any mainstream newspaper.

I just could not understand why this was so when this story pretty much substantively surpassed most of the others. One journalist, in confidence, pointed out to me, that even though this story had all the makings of a big budget movie, and included all the right players like the manufacturers, the petroleum company and the ADF, politicians, and the people on the ground it was nevertheless a very sensitive story for the Australian audience. He has said to me the last thing Australians needed to hear was that Australians were part of a Coalition of armed forces in Iraq that were responsible for the devastation of families, for the death of children, for the 'dismemberment' of children's bodies ... so much for the truth! I saw this as nothing but institutional discrimination and racism, the manifest of deceit, the implication of some of the media in lying to their readers, as systemic abuse.

Like anyone else who cares about policies of inclusion rather than hierarchies, I am concerned about the media's role in influencing our lives, I am concerned in the governments' roles within the media, I am concerned when media outlets are owned by transnationals and funders rather than them being institutions much in the same vein as once hoped of universities.

"Our ability to discover the truth is now being outstripped by our ability to manifest deceit."

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