Rev. Talitha Arnold going to Iraq to work with women refugees

Rev. Talitha Arnold, Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (a United Church of Christ) is part of a 3-person delegation to the Kurdistan region of Iraq in early June. She will visit the refugee camps around the city of Erbil, home to more than 200,000 people who have fled their villages and cities in other parts of Iraq. 
The delegation will document the work of various women's empowerment programs that are focused on providing income and jobs for the most vulnerable refugees--women who have lost their husband, sons, brothers in the ongoing wars and therefore are without the means to support themselves or their children. The women's cooperatives produce candles, jewelry, and other items that are sold internationally. They also teach business administration and marketing skills. 
Current estimates put the number of "war widows" at 1.5 million people, over 10% of the women in Iraq. In the Kurdistan region alone, over 2 million people, most of them women and children, are internal refugees. 
The women's empowerment programs are sponsored in part by the "Week of Compassion," the ongoing international aid and development agency of the progressive Disciples of Christ, a global partner with the United Church of Christ (United of Santa Fe's parent denomination) in similar programs around the world.  
The delegation will be based in Erbil, Iraq, an international center for diplomats, non-governmental agencies, and aid groups. Erbil is also one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, dating back 8000 years. Erbil is also 60 miles from Mosul, and therefore has been receiving ongoing waves of refugees from the conflict in that city. 
The United Church of Santa Fe has been involved in immigration and refugee issues throughout its nearly four decades as a progressive Christian church in Santa Fe. In the early 1980's, the congregation raised funds and advocated for Salvadorans fleeing the war in their country. During the 1990s, the church also raised funds and supplies for the refugees of Rwanda and Kosovo. Since the mid-1990's, church volunteers have worked in several Santa Fe public schools with large immigrant communities. Most recently, United Church has helped organized the new Interfaith Immigrant Justice coalition and is considering becoming an official "Immigrant Welcoming Congregation" of the United Church of Christ. 
Rev. Arnold's commitment to refugee work also dates to the early 1980's when she was a Associate Minister for a United Church of Christ congregation in Connecticut and co-led a major Cambodian refugee resettlement project that served as a pilot project throughout New England. She also did documentary work in the Cambodian and Vietnamese refugee camps along the border in Thailand, similar to what she will be doing in Iraq. 
 "It is important to see a human face behind the headlines," Rev. Arnold affirms. "Refugees have not always been "refugees" or lived in camps. They are people just like you and me who had lives, homes, jobs, families, and hopes for their future and for their children. I hope our work will offer that, not only to my congregation but to others."
In addition, she continued, since we're documenting women's empowerment programs and the other two members of the delegation are men, it's important to have a woman on the team. "I am grateful for United's commitment to immigrants and refugees," she concluded, "and this is in line with those ongoing commitments."
A special concert this Sunday at 2:00, featuring the United Festival Choir directed by Bradley Ellingboe, will include a freewill offering, half of which goes directly to the Iraqi women's programs and the other half to support Santa Fe's homeless shelters.