The young woman's voice was hard to hear over the phone, and she spoke in her native tongue.Even so, Monica O'Neil and Mary Younan of Chico were thrilled to actually hear Noora, an injured 19-year-old Iraqi woman they've been working to help since October.
Through an interpreter, O'Neil and Younan were able to communicate with Noora directly Wednesday morning, thanks to a conference call arranged by No More Victims, the group they've been working with.
For the two Chico women, the story began last fall when O'Neil, a lawyer, saw Cole Miller, the founder of No More Victims, being interviewed on a television program. She was touched by his efforts to arrange medical care for young civilians injured in the fighting in Iraq. And when she visited his group's Web site and learned more about these children's stories, she was shocked.
Younan said she'd visit O'Neil and find her sitting in front of the computer with tears streaming down her face because the stories were so sad.
"It just devastated her," Younan said.
The two women contacted No More Victims asking what they could do to help. A major effort of the organization has been to link American communities with injured Iraqi youngsters. The Americans raise money to pay for medical care for the children.
Soon, O'Neil and Younan found Noora had been assigned to them. Noora said she was 16 years old when the vehicle she was riding in was attacked by American forces. One of her eyes was badly damaged by shrapnel.
Chicoans have been very generous, O'Neil said in an interview Wednesday. The two women, with help from others, have raised $4,000 of the $10,000 they intend to accumulate to pay for Noora's medical care. A good portion of that money was raised by a benefit dinner held last month.
Noora and her mother traveled from their home in Iraq to Amman, Jordan, where they have been staying temporarily. On Saturday, Noora had surgery to remove her damaged eye. She'll have another operation to implant a prosthetic eye.
On Wednesday, Miller and others from No More Victims, arranged a conference call so that O'Neil and Younan could talk to Noora and her mother in Jordan.
During that call, Noora was asked to explain what happened on the day she was hit by shrapnel.
She said she was traveling with her family to attend a funeral when American soldiers opened fire on their car. Her uncle who was driving was killed, and she and her mother were hit by shrapnel. Afterwards, she said, one of the soldiers came up to the car and gave her a bottle of water and said he was sorry. Then the soldiers left. Noora said some other Iraqi civilians came to their aid after a while but that she didn't get any medical attention, other than painkillers, until she came to Jordan recently.
Noora, who said she married young and has a small child, explained that her husband divorced her because she was disfigured. She also fell behind in school. She was in her last year of high school and wants very much to continue with her studies.
Noora was asked to talk about her feelings toward Americans, but she said she didn't want to discuss them. She said she greatly appreciated the help she has received because of O'Neil's and Younan's efforts.
The two women said they are planning more events to raise money for Noora. A dinner with Indian and Pakistani food will be held March 2 at the Chico Women's Club. There will also be an international fashion show and a silent auction that evening.
Miller will visit Chico that weekend. He will speak at the dinner and also on March 3. He is slated to talk at noon on March 3 at the Chico City Council Chambers and at 7 p.m. that evening in Room 102 of Plumas Hall on the Chico State University campus. The talks are free and open to the public.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Miller, a freelance writer from Los Angeles, said he founded No More Victims several years ago because he was concerned about civilian casualties in Iraq.
The American public is largely unaware of how much suffering the war has caused among ordinary people in Iraq, he said, adding he wants to make that reality better known in the United States.