Upstate community opens their arms to injured Iraqi child

GREENVILLE — A nine-year-old girl seriously injured in the war in Iraq has come to South Carolina to receive new prosthetic legs and a new lease on life, with the help of Catholics from some Upstate parishes.

Salee Allawe arrived in Greenville on July 8 with her father Hussein Allawe and underwent surgery July 11 at the Shriners’ Hospital. She will be fitted for prosthetic legs after about six weeks of recovery and will spend at least three months in Greenville.

Salee and her father came here with the help of the Upstate Coalition of Compassion, an interdenominational group formed in 2006 that works in conjunction with the humanitarian organization No More Victims. The organization was founded in 2002 by Cole Miller and finds medical sponsorships for war-injured Iraqi children and brings them to the United States for pro bono medical help.

Ann Oliver Cothran, a member of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Anderson, is one of the founders of the coalition. She and other members, many from Upstate Catholic churches, worked for more than a year to bring Salee to the United States. Volunteers from the community and from other churches helped to raise the $10,000-plus needed to cover the costs of bringing Salee to the states.

“It’s amazing to have her here,” Cothran said. “She’s absolutely gorgeous, sweet, smart and kind … and her father is such a good man.”

A crowd of more than 30 adults and children greeted Salee and her father as they exited an elevator at the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport. Two people held a large banner bearing greetings in English and Arabic. Children rushed to gather around Salee’s wheelchair and pressed balloons, stuffed animals and gifts into her hands.

Salee, a slight girl with arresting eyes and a bright smile, posed for pictures and peeked with excitement into gift bags. Tears filled her father’s eyes as he watched.

“He said he was crying because even in Iraq, people there were busy and didn’t have time to worry about his problems,” said Greenville resident Haifi Abdulhadi, who was acting as translator. “He said he never expected people would do this for his daughter.”

On July 11, one of Salee’s knees was amputated and both legs were evened out in preparation for the prostheses. She and her father are staying at the Ronald McDonald House across from the hospital.

Volunteers in Greenville have given Hussein use of a laptop with the Skype internet telephone software so he can stay in regular touch with his wife and other family members in Iraq.

Lisa Hall, a member of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, said she became involved with the effort to bring Salee here because she saw it as a concrete way to put Catholic teachings on peace into action.

“I saw this effort as something that would allow us to begin the process toward peace,” Hall said. “It’s not often clear how to be practically involved in peacemaking around the world, and this is a way for ordinary citizens of one country to make peace with ordinary people from another. We see this as the core of our faith. This is the Gospel in action. This effort has cut through political boundaries. People don’t feel you have to be a member of any particular party in order to want to help this little girl.”

Greg Williams, also a member of St. Anthony of Padua, said he participated in the effort as a direct result of his membership in the Upstate branch of Pax Christi, the international Catholic peace movement, and his involvement with JustFaith, a Catholic program which focuses on making social ministry an integral part of faith communities.

“This has been a lot of hard work, but it’s wonderful because bringing Salee here was a concrete way to help one person,” Williams said. “We’re also hoping it will spread awareness of the danger of collateral damage in war.

“My experience with JustFaith strengthened and solidified my commitment to my faith and a desire to help people. This combines social ministry with the commitment to peace. And it’s been wonderful because different people from different cultures, who speak different languages and attend different churches, have worked together to make this happen.”

Salee’s family originally lived in Baghdad but moved to Hasswa, Iraq, in late 2006 because of increasing danger in their home city. In November 2006, Salee and her brother were playing outside their home when they were struck by a missile during a U.S. attack. Her eight-year-old brother died, and Salee lost both of her legs.
Her family was unable to obtain the  medical attention she needed in Iraq. She and her father spent time in Syria and Amman, Jordan, waiting on visas to come to America for treatment.