Journalist and writer Rupert Neudeck, founder of the Cap Anamur Committee, spoke to DW-RADIO about Green Helmets, a new organization to rebuild crisis-riddled regions and stimulate interreligious dialogue.
Green Helmets plans to open a school for Iraqi children in Baghdad.
A passionate humanist, Rupert Neudeck first made news with his Cap Anamur project in 1979 when he chartered a ship to help people who were drowning and dying in the Chinese Sea. The German organization managed to rescue 11,488 Vietnamese boat people and bring them to safety. Over the years, Cap Anamur staff has gone to Russia, Asia, Africa and the Balkans to help clear mines, help refugees, and build and run hospitals.
A former radio journalist and writer, Neudeck reported on and wrote on the war in Afghanistan, the fate of the Kurds and Western asylum policy, particularly in his book, "Asylum: Why the Boat Isn’t Full," published in 1992.
He has now founded a new organization called Green Helmets to help rebuild war-torn regions and provide an impetus for interreligious dialogue. The first Green Helmets project is the construction of a school for about 2,320 children on the outskirts of Saddam City in Baghdad.
Rupert Neudeck spoke to DW-RADIO about the aims of Green Helmets, the search for volunteers and the problems the organization could face in helping Iraq.
The first batch of Green helmet volunteers are set to leave for Baghdad this coming Sunday…
Yes, that’s correct. We’ve discovered that the outskirts of Baghdad and rural areas are desperately short of schools, orphanages, children’s homes and medicine on account of the complete neglect in these areas over the past 12 years. We plan to go to a place we visited 10 days ago and where we promised the population, among them 2,320 children, that we would rebuild their schools. These children have been waiting so long for a school. It’s important that we do this as soon as possible because people in such situations have an inborn mistrust towards people who just come by and promise things.
You were in Iraq several times, even during Saddam’s reign, where at the moment all kinds of aid is desperately needed. Why are you starting the work of the Green helmets with a school project?
There’s nothing in the world that can solve social and political problems better than education and it starts with schools. We’ve seen in Afghanistan and in Africa that nothing is more pressing in the countries of the "have nots" than education and the building of schools. That’s exactly what we plan to do in Iraq.
The word "Green Helmets" reminds one of the "Blue Helmets" – the UN peacekeepers. But the Green Helmets are meant to do more than secure the peace. Why did you choose the name Green Helmets for the organization?
The word is easy to explain. Green helmets are blue helmets without the weapons. The helmet symbolizes that we want to borrow a bit of military discipline that we civilians sometimes lack. Besides green is the color of this century. Last century it was the color red that promised a bit of hope and future for the world, but green is now in the German parliament (a reference to the pacifist Green party in Germany’s ruling coalition), green is the color of Muslims, the color of hope, the color of Advent, of Christians – one can imagine just about everything. We want to combine these two elements in the name of the organization "Green Helmets."
What kind of prerequisites should an applicant fulfill in order to join the Green Helmets as a volunteer?
What we urgently need in Germany are young carpenters, roofers, plumbers – people who can do rugged practical work who are have held more than one kind of job in their lives. We need people like that in Iraq, but then also later in Bosnia and Afghanistan, where a project is in the pipeline.
Can you say whether there’s a strong interest among young volunteers in Germany?
Yes, the interest is huge. But I regret that German bureaucracy isn’t making it easy for us and putting up too many obstacles. For instance, there are so many young unemployed people in Germany running into the millions. There are some who are ready to relinquish their unemployment benefits and work with us, but they aren’t getting any health insurance from the state. But we can’t send people out there (to Iraq) without health insurance. The German bureaucracy simply doesn’t know what’s good for people. I believe that if jobless people want to make a difference and we’re bearing their costs, then they should be spurred on by bureaucrats and German parliament and praised for their efforts and make sure they get on them on the next plane.
The interreligious dialogue plays an important role for the Green Helmets, which means Green Helmets doesn’t just want to be an aid organization but also initiate a dialogue which doesn’t only increase its own awareness but also the people it wants to help.
We want to initiate a practical dialogue, we want to get out of the theological and philosophical dialogue that’s rampant all over the world at the moment and which only produces tons of paper and resolutions and where lectures are held. That’s all important, but we’re impatient to start something together. That’s why we want to get young Muslims and young Germans together, start something and thus contribute our bit so that the horrible events of this century aren’t repeated. The so-called clash of civilizations which in German means nothing less than the battle of religions worries us and it’s something we don’t want in the coming decades, either for us or for our children. The organization should make an important, perhaps even crucial, contribution towards avoiding that.
The number of aid organizations in crisis zones, at present in Iraq and Afghanistan, is constantly on the rise. But often a lack of practicalities hinders their success in spite of the best intentions. What experience have you had in order to coordinate help in the best possible way?
I've been in this field for the past 23 years. There’s a huge gap between a large number of organizations which are increasingly dependent on state funds and a handful of those who try to raise their own money privately. I want to make the Green Helmets an organization that is completely independent of the government and the European Union and one that enjoys the support of the local population, only then would we manage to avoid the pitfalls that you mentioned. We aren’t going to go to areas where we have to enter a dog-eat-dog competition among aid organizations. I’m going to western Afghanistan, southern Sudan and maybe to the Democratic Republic of Congo where there are hardly any other organizations. In this way I want to make Green Helmets a private and a social organization that doesn’t need to listen to government dictates.