by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon
Linda Smith joined Rotary in 1996 in Bahrain to have the opportunity to volunteer in that part of the world. She has! A few years ago, while with the Montgomery Village Rotary Club, she created the Basra Project, a nonprofit organization that helps amputees by training doctors and purchasing equipment so that local medical personnel can provide free or very low cost treatment and prosthetics to the amputees.
The project started just after 911. She started thinking about projects because “there seemed to be some misconception about the Arab people and how they were different, while they were just like everybody else.” After the Iraqi ambassador set up an embassy in the U.S. she asked to friends what the needs were in Iraq. She discovered that many amputees had lost limbs to land mines. Many were not properly cared for and as a result were wheel-chair bound. But Iraq is not a particularly wheelchair friendly environment. With an initial grant and in kind donations, she launched the project. On the support from Rotary, she explained that “It wasn’t just cash and it wasn’t just a check; instead the Rotarians were like, let’s do this!”
The project is now a success, but problems had to be overcome. The Iraq war was ongoing and this created chaos. Some of the medical professionals received death threats. One of the project directors had to flee the country and work in a Syrian refugee camp for about a year to escape threats. For safety doctors had to be trained in Jordan and in Florida. The violence even forced the project to pause until the country became stable enough to restart. But eventually things worked out. The project succeeded in part because instead of trying to build a prosthetics center independently, the team worked with the government: “working with the Ministry made the program stronger and better which was key.” Linda’s advice to Rotarians is to “roll up your sleeves a little more and get involved… While there are many check writers, which is wonderful, it is also important to be hands on in a project that you care about.”
Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).