That afternoon Jeremy passed out blank forms to the Iraqi civil activists as they took their seats for the Tuesday meeting.
“These will be used to make public database,” Sofia announced. “We made it so you can contact each other better, but there is danger I am afraid that it can be used against you. So do not write us your home address or personal information. This is for your security. Now I don’t know if some of you know what is functional workshops, but this is what I would like to do today. But first I am happy to answer few questions.”
Thirty-five hands sprung into the air. Sofia pointed to a woman on the left.
“Miss Sofia,” the woman said. “I have asked to meet with the Wizard many times but have still received no response. When can I meet with the Wizard?”
“I think the Wizard is quite busy man. He maybe doesn’t have so much time for personal meetings.”
“It is very important. It is about the pollution of the environment.”
“Next question. You.” Sofia pointed to a middle-aged woman and she stood up, her black robes brushing the cheeks of the two men seated on either side. It was Nasreen at-Tamimi from the Save Iraq Now Organization. Her face turned hard and dark and she set her hands on her hips.
“Miss Sofia, I have been coming to your office for over a month. I have met you many times and I have come to all your meetings. And to be honest, I am very frustrated with your NGO.”
Sofia listened to Jeremy’s interpretation and put up her hands. “Okay, first thing is, I don’t have any NGO.”
“Please,” Nasreen continued, squeezing her fingertips together in an expression of impatience. “Allow me to speak. Many people have been coming to your office for a long time: every person in this room. Every day we come to you for help, but all you give us is words. After all this time, you still haven’t given material assistance to one NGO. Can a hungry child fill its belly with words, Miss Sofia?”
“And can words mend broken bones? Can they heal the sick?”
“This is not—”
“Can they restore electricity?”
At the mention of electricity, some people grumbled in agreement.
“So you see? Words are only words, Miss Sofia. We don’t want words, we want action! We’re never going to save Iraq by talking. So when are you going to give us the material assistance we require?”
“Okay,” Sofia said. “Is it my turn now? I know you are impatient for material assistance. You are asking me about this every day, but answer must be same. You are new NGOs without so much experience and there is not a good chance that somebody just gives you big bag of money. You need to prove you are capable. To start, you could try to implement small project in your community what isn’t so expensive.”
“More talking!” Nasreen said. “You keep telling us to create some project, but you won’t even tell us what project to create.”
“I cannot tell you what project to create. I am not Iraqi person and I don’t know what Iraqi people need. Only you know what they need, so only you can propose solutions for their problems.”
“Everything in Iraq is a problem.”
“This is not serious answer.”
“Give us an example,” Nasreen demanded.
“Just tell us what to do,” someone else said.
Jeremy touched Sofia’s arm. “They’re waiting for you.”
“Okay,” Sofia said. “But it is bad idea. Tell them they can make small income-generating project. For example, one way to help women like single mothers with no job is with sewing workshop. They give to them start-up material… cloth and sewing machine… and they sew things and sell them. They keep some money as profit and use rest to buy new material.”
Sofia rubbed her hands as Jeremy interpreted for the crowd. “This will give us troubles,” she said. “I know it already.”
The following morning Sofia and Jeremy met with the Awakening Iraqi Woman Organization, the Iraqi War Veterans’ Association, the Care for Old People in Iraq Association, the Iraqi Center for Religious Tolerance and the Iraqi Green Peace Organization. All wanted to open a sewing workshop in Baghdad.