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  • Writer's pictureKay Sandberg

"Never Give Up on Living Each Day Fully": Volunteer's Inspiration from Northern Iraq (Kurdistan)

This is a guest blog by Lori Jo Marlia-Larsen, CNM (Certified Nurse Midwife) at LaClinica Women's Health Center, Medford Oregon. Lori Jo (LJ) and graduate of our first course at LaClinica this July for birth workers to prepare for volunteer work in disaster relief situations. Lori Jo started a visionary project in 2003 in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan) and returned this summer with her family--husband Brian and two children 12 and 6 for the trip of a lifetime.

Here are her reflections on what they learned and offered during this precious experience.

For the full blog post, please check out our ally, Perinatal Rescue Network (PRN), a local NGO which facilitated Lori Jo becoming a Master Trainer of Helping Babies Breathe and Helping Mothers Survive, just as they did for Global Force volunteers to Bangladesh in 2018.

Recently our family had the great fortune of spending some time in Istanbul, Turkey and in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan). Neither my son (12) nor my daughter (6) had previously spent time in that region of the world, which made the trip all the more exciting. We were going to Iraq so my children could be exposed to and experience a depth of hospitality, generosity and resilience of which I have found nowhere else in the world.

Boys Soccer Team with Marlia-Larsen family

The trip was orchestrated so that our children were engaged in direct service with the Kurdish and Yazidi men, women and children alongside of us, observing our own interactions at the same time.  Our son, Cielo, collaborated with my husband in putting on a soccer camp for over 30 young “refugee” boys. The two of them share a love for soccer and this was the most obvious way I could think of to help Cielo engage with his father in service to others in a way that allowed him to offer his skills and experience while playing and enjoying life with young boys who off the field are experiencing a drastically different reality than his. Most every boy in the camp has lived in a tent or shelter for over 5 years due to persecution by ISIS against the Yazidi people. The loss and sorrow held by these boys is beyond what our family can comprehend!

Lori Jo and Daughter Mia Jo Share the Love of Reading

Mia Jo bore witness to most every interaction, hug, smile, conversation that I had during our time in Iraq. She was well loved on by women in full burqas, scarves, pants, even skirts and short sleeve shirts. Yes, she also played with children her age, and cartwheeled and back-bended her way into the hearts of many but to my great pleasure, she was present at each occasion I had to teach, speak and engage with women and girls.

Teaching Helping Mothers Survive & Babies Breathe

Together we taught nurse midwives and physicians the Helping Mothers Survive course within the walls of the very maternity hospital where 15 years prior I was inspired to become a midwife. Together, she and I offered private seminars for women where she overheard discussions around gynecological issues/problems, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause and any other topics the women brought up. We also shared the honor of speaking to the largest women’s union in the region together. Mia had the very important job of handing out Dagoba chocolate (made in Ashland, Oregon, our town) to participants who had the courage to ask and answer questions and engage in dialogue.

Proud Grads of Life-saving Courses for Midwives/MD's

On one occasion we were asked to speak with “young and gifted” youth aged 15-18 yrs old. I retold the story of how the very building they were sitting in came to be, how it took a dream, a spirit of belief, courage, willingness, tenacity and going beyond my original commitment and comfort zone to get the job done. I sowed into them my own belief that they can accomplish even greater things and that I believed the benevolent God of the Universe helped make the Women’s Center happen in order to bless them and their community because...They are the Beloved!

Mia listened as the group and I engaged in dialogue around setting goals, perspectives, cultural changes at hand and their hopes for the future. It was apparent to me that the women, some of whom were mothers of young girls, with whom we interacted appreciated seeing that I was intentional about involving my young daughter, that even at 6 years old, she had great value, a place at the table and yes, was invited into the “sisterhood”. My hope is that our relationship lived out in front of these beautiful women will somehow influence and flavor how they view and engage the younger generation of girls within their midst.

Women & Girls Share Hearts, Learning & Chocolate!

With first hand experience and knowledge of the Kurdish people, people of the Middle East, people who follow Islam, my hope is that our children will become better and braver advocates for others, that they will chose to engage and influence those who seek to vilify people of that region (or anyone for that matter). We are seeking to do the right thing with our kids, to serve others wholeheartedly whether they live across the street or across the world. I have and will make countless mistakes as a parent, a fact of which myself and my children are well aware! What I hope is that together as a family, in spite of our shortcomings and despite our less than brilliant moments - that we will seek to hold each other accountable to:

                              do the right thing always, approach everything we do with excellence, never give up on LIVING each day fully.        

*Thank you Kay Sandberg of Global Force for Healing - You are loved!

*Thank you to the Jim Hulse and the Perinatal Rescue Network for allowing me to be trained in Helping Mothers Survive and Helping Babies Breath. Immense gratitude to the Board for your generosity of Spirit for MamaNatalie and NeoNatalie mannequin donations. *Thank you Jacqueline and Erin (of Global Force's Compassionate Birth Network) for the weekend course in Midwifery in the Era of Climate Change - May you continue to do the right thing with excellence!  *Thank you Kim McQuoid for helping to arrange for our weekend with Jacqueline and Erin at La Clinica’s Family and Women’s Health Center ~ Keep Shining!


Thank you, Lori Jo for sharing your heart and transformative insights!

With love as the force, Kay

Note: I excerpted portions of Lori Jo's longer blog available via the above link to PRN's blog.



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