Utne Reader visionary
In February 2007 humanitarian activist Noah Baker Merrill was in Jordan with an Iraqi friend, expecting to interview a family of Iraqi refugees. Word had spread, however, and the pair spent their evening with an entire house of displaced people. As they were leaving, Baker Merrill was paralyzed with anger and grief, overwhelmed by the suffering and loss.
“Stop it,” his friend said. “I understand how you’re feeling and I appreciate it. What we need from you is not to be angry and sad, but for you to work hard and stay with us.” That seed of solidarity led Baker Merrill later that year to cofound Direct Aid Iraq, an innovative humanitarian aid and peace-building network staffed by both Americans and Iraqis.
Direct Aid Iraq operates on a simple principle: Americans have a responsibility to support a peaceful future for Iraqis, and building relationships is part of that restitution process. The global network connects Iraqis with urgent medical care on a case-by-case basis, advocates for resettlement, and facilitates other organizations.
“The situation is still terrible and will be for decades,” Baker Merrill says. As Iraq itself is displaced from U.S. headlines, his organization’s work becomes ever more essential.
Writing for Counterpunch, Baker Merrill expounds on the elegant, forceful founding premises of the Direct Aid Iraq—from “Iraqis are the hope and future of Iraq,” to “We can do better.” For more on what drives their work, watch this video of Baker Merrill speaking in Des Moines in late 2008, at a time when one-in-five Iraqis were displaced, and yet mainstream U.S. media coverage was leading Americans to believe that the Iraq war was “no longer even an issue.”