Iraqi diplomat commends Rotary for humanitarian prosthetics project
In her work providing artificial limbs to people in Iraq, Rotarian Linda Smythe has worked closely with Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States. Smythe, a former diplomat who is chair and founder of the Basra Prosthetics Project, recently arranged for Sumaidaie to speak at the Rotary Club of Washington, D.C.
“I have always associated the activities of Rotary with humanity and caring,” he told the audience, which included ambassadors and senior government officials.
In a moving address, Sumaidaie shared a deeply personal account of the daily struggle of Iraqi civilians.
“I want to talk to you about Iraq today not in a political sense, but from the perspective of ordinary people, from the perspective of women, old men – regular folks that have the same aspirations, fears, worries, and hopes as you have, and as every human being has,” he said.
Smythe, of the Rotary Club of Montgomery Village, Md., says an estimated 50,000 people have lost limbs in Iraq – 5,000 in Basra alone. The Basra project, which has sent prostheses to Iraq and trained doctors to fit people with artificial limbs since 2003, is supported by several Rotary clubs in the Washington, D.C., area, and the U.S. State Department, which has contributed $200,000. In November, the United States State Department awarded the project a US$1.5 million grant. In addition, several companies, such as the Hanger Orthopedic Group, provide prostheses at a discounted price.
Sumaidaie encourages the Iraqi Ministry of Health in Baghdad to participate, Smythe said. “He and the embassy staff are very involved with the project.”
Jim Brookshire, president of the Washington, D.C., club, called Rotarians’ response to Sumaidaie’s speech “extraordinary.”
“We’re a fortunate club – we have 60 or so honorary members who are ambassadors. It is not unusual for us to have an ambassador, to have a senior business or senior government leader speak to us,” Brookshire said.
When Sumaidaie gave his address, Brookshire added, “the response was particularly warm, probably partly because he took off on the ‘everyman’ theme. The club really does operate that way. There’s a sense of equality among all members.”
Sumaidaie urged the audience to support nongovernmental organizations and people trying to make a difference, explaining that people in Iraq “must not feel that they are isolated, must not feel that they are abandoned. They must feel that the world cares about them, encourages them, and supports them.”
Brookshire noted that the club has just welcomed one more honorary member: the Iraqi ambassador himself.
Find out more about the Basra Prosthetics Project at www.basraproject.com, or read a previous article.