SHERIDAN— An area nonprofit is asking for assistance with the final round of school supplies, blankets and other donations to top off a 40-foot shipping container for refugees in northern Iraq.
Patrick Klein, executive director of Visions Beyond Borders, which has offices in Casper and Bozeman, Montana, visited Iraq in May to deliver donations. He said the need is dire.
The people Klein met on that trip were living in Dohuk, a city in northern Iraq. Just an hour to the south of Dohuk is Mosul, which fell to Islamic State militants in 2014. Christians and Yazidis — a religious group in the region — living in community centers and church basements in Dohuk told Klein that before fleeing Mosul, they had lost family members to kidnappings by the Islamic State group.
“Many of them left with just the clothes on their backs,” Klein said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Visions Beyond Borders is a Christian organization, but Klein said it aims to help all who have been displaced by clashes between Islamic State militants, rebels and other forces in the region, regardless of religious affiliation. The group’s Bozeman office is collecting donations for a shipment to Jordan in the coming weeks, which Klein said would serve mostly Muslim refugees from Iraq and Syria.
Visions Beyond Borders is asking for heavy blankets, since many of the refugees Klein met with are sleeping on concrete floors. School supplies are another big need. Klein said that there were teachers among the people he met in Dohuk, and plenty of kids who needed schooling. But without white boards, markers, notebooks, pens and pencils, the kids simply played all day.
Hygiene and medical supplies are also in demand. Klein hopes to compile individual bags with shampoo, soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush and razor — so these items are all on the organization’s wish list. A mobile clinic that has been set up in northern Iraq is also asking Visions Beyond Borders for help securing basic medical supplies such as antiseptic cream and Tylenol or Ibuprofen.
“They said, ‘If we run out of medicine, we have nothing to give the people,’” Klein recounted, of his conversation with the mobile clinic operators. “So we can definitely use it.”
Anyone who wishes to donate supplies in Sheridan can drop them off with Christine Klement at Good Health Emporium, located at 933 Werco Ave. Klement can be reached at 674-5715 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday.
When full, the shipping container will cross the Atlantic Ocean by boat and go through Turkey, finally landing in Dohuk.
Klein said that fears some people have of terrorists infiltrating refugee groups and spreading violence might be holding them back from helping.
“Well you can’t write them all off,” Klein said, of the millions fleeing violence in their home countries of Iraq and Syria. He wants people to think carefully about who is hurting and how simple it could be to help with donations.
“They’re kind of at the mercy of compassion from people around the world,” he said.