Late one winter night, five years after the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, I made a decision that changed the course of my life. For the five years preceding this night I had watched in bewilderment and shame, as the war and the ugly consequences of war, played out. The website of the non-profit organization I stumbled upon that night would serendipitously give me the outlet for the voice I had been suppressing for five years. They were in need of a project manager and I was in need of a means to seek forgiveness for what we had done.
The project involved caring for a 6 year old Iraqi girl named Noora. Noora, at the age of four had been riding with her three siblings in the back seat of the family car, when a U.S. sniper opened fire from a house rooftop. The family was returning home after having attended a Ramadan celebration at her grandfather’s home, several miles away, in Hit Iraq. The bullet entered the left temporal area of Noora’s head, exiting out her forehead, shattering a large portion of her skull in the process. Miraculously, Noora suffered no brain damage, but the seven surgeries that followed would lead the family into financial ruin and emotional chaos. Iraq’s decimated medical system forced the family to travel to increasingly dangerous areas of Iraq in search of medical help, which frequently was unavailable or grossly insufficient. Infection plagued them with each surgery. One infection was so severe that doctors were forced to remove a large portion of her skull, leaving her brain unprotected. Noora, during one hospitalization alone, endured 168 injections.
In a huge leap of faith, Noora and her father left their home and family to travel to the U.S. for what they anticipated would be one final surgery. They came to the US reluctantly, but with the belief that Noora would not survive without the surgery. The expected two month separation, due to medical complications, turned into eleven months and required a total of five surgeries.
There is nothing that can prepare you for the day you stare into the eyes of what we call, “collateral damage”. No handbook to help you through the feelings of guilt and senselessness. And no words of comfort to offer the family that can possibly mitigate the horror they have experienced as a result of being caught in the middle of this war.
This project documents one family’s tenacious determination to right an unthinkable wrong. It bears witness to the love between a father and daughter and gives a voice to their suffering and healing, courage and endurance, forgiveness and reconciliation and the ever present dream of peace. But most importantly, it is the proof before your eyes, that we must, if for the sake of our children alone, find alternatives to war.
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The Sunshine Lady Foundation
First Hand Foundation
Photographer: Susi Eggenberger
Call for Entries on Narrative Documentary Honorable Mention
Exhibit Title: Collateral Damage: Noora's story
Location: United States
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