Nurse: I preferred to die in Iraq than returning home without my salary

Majority of the nurses were in their late twenties who dreamt a sweet home when they went troubled Iraq in February last. It was not their dream job that offered them big money and splashy life. But it was a chance to re-build their families. They knew very well that Iraq was no paradise and read about it. But they have no option as majority had taken education loan and could not repay even the interests from their small salaries. They could not even afford the treatment of their parents.

They applied for all foreign jobs one after another appeared in the news paper advertisements. But they were not lucky enough to get selected. 67 nurses, majority from Kerala boarded flight for Bagdad as a last chance to save their families from debt trap in last February. But it ended in chaos as 15 among them returned to Kerala empty handed after working in Tikrit for five months.

The nurses share their woes with THE KOCHI POST. after returning to Kerala spending 25 days in Iraqi sunni militants custody.

27 year old TS Shalini from Churulikode in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala never wanted to return to sweet homeland from Tikrit. She knew that life was very uncertain in Tikrit as she heard fighting going on outside her hospital and bombs exploding every now and then in Tikrit.

But her home land offered her nothing – No dignified job with a decent salary and not even good place to live. Back home she has a heavy loan overdue to repay.

She hated receiving letters from the bank every month reminding about her over-due loan amount . She never wanted to be a captive of anything as she had been living at the mercy of others since her father died 20 years ago.

“I’ve nothing to bank upon here. I’ve to repay my education loan which is pending for years. I’ve taken the loan for studying nursing course. I took around Rs 2.5 lakhs for the studying the course in Bangalore. Even after working five years, I could not repay my loan. That was the only reason, I went to Iraq knowing that it’s country full of problems. I’ve returned home without making a single paise after working five months there,” Shalini narrated her circumstances.

She lost her father 20 years ago. Her mother Shanthamma did odd jobs to feed her brother and twins.

“We were able to survive only with the help of my mother’s family. They supported our education and food. When I got an offer from Iraq, I was hoping that I could stand on my legs and repay all my loan. But it ended as a nightmare,” Shalini told THE KOCHI POST.

Nurse 9

According to her, 15 of the 67 nurses who had gone Iraq were posted in Tikrit Teaching Hospital and other were despatched to various other hospitals Under the Ministry of Health in Iraq. “We have been offered US$ 750 per month and free accommodation and food. For us it was a good sum and we had paid Rs 1.60 lakhs for the recruiting agent and another Rs 40,000 for travel.

In our contract, it was mentioned that we would get our salary only after completing three months service. We had no option and agreed to it. We were counting days to get the salary and written home that we would send the money at the earliest. Then the war broke out and our management fled from the hospital,” she revealed.

Even after the Suni rebels invaded their hospital on June 12, Shalini was under the impression that they would be shifted to other hospitals in Bagdad and their salaries would be paid. “We asked the rebels to get our payment and Indian Ambassador in Iraq Ajay Kumar to help us to get our salary arrears. But nothing worked out. I preferred to die in Iraq than returning home without my salary. I know that within a week, sympathies will fade out and I ‘ve a heavy debt,” tears started rolling when she narrated her testing moments in life.”

Now Shalini has to rebuild her life from the scratches as none to help her to repay her loans. Her mother had pledged a joint property of her ancestral home to take loan to send her to Iraq. Her twin sister Sharika who is also a nurse working in Jabalpur had got a job offer from Libiya, but Shalini told her not to go as Iraq had terrified her.

“When we were in the middle of bombings there, we never lost our confidence. We remained together and prayed. Now back home, I’m alone with my worries. I feel very lonely and hopless,” she shared her agonies and chaos.

She has only four cents of land and a small house to sell off and now to work to save money to repay her loans and raise dowry for her marriage.  “Marriage is my last option. I have to find money to repay my loans and sleep a cool day,” she said.

Just 35 kilometer away from shalini’s home, Theveri villagenear Thiruvalla where Vidya K Vishwambaran lives with surrounded by her mounting bank loans. 26 year old Vidya too returned home jobless without getting paid for day after working for five months in Tikrit hospital.

“My father works as coolie and I was his only hope as all my sisters were married off. When I got the visa, he was thrilled as my salry enble him to repay my education loan of Rs. 1.8 lakhs. Now he has lost his dream and hope. It’s my fate. If I don’t get a job somewhere, we all have to commit suicide. How many months I can make excuses to the bank officials?” Vidya said.

She dosen’t know what to do. Her only hope that many NRI businessmen had offered jobs for nurses returned from Iraq. “If I get one I would be the happiest person after spending 25 days without sleep in Iraq. But I’m not sure whether I will get it or not,” she told.

15 nurses who were working in Tikrit were the not ready to leave the place as they were not paid the salaries. But Indian Ambassador in Iraq told them that safety is more important than their salaries.
“We were lucky to have an ambassador like Ajay Kumar in Iraq. We used to call him every now and then and when ever we hear the explosion outside the hospital. He used to pick up the phone even at 3AM in the morning and helped us to recharge our mobile phones. Without him, we would have died in Iraq with tension,” said Jiji Raj who returned from Iraq.

For many others too, Indian Ambassador in Iraq Ajay Kumar was a guide and counselor during the hour of crisis.

“He was always there to support us. He tried to fill hope in us and without him we would have ended up in Iraq. And we thank the militants who helped us and fed us. We saw God there in them,” said Jiji. Now the Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has convened a meeting to discuss the rehabilitation package for the nurses returned from Iraq. CPI(M) has already donated Rs 3,000,000 for Smithamol S who doesn’t have a place to sleep.

NRI businessmen like Atlas Ramachandran rushed and Azad Moopen have announced job offer for the nurses. But nurses knew that it all a publicity stunt to make headlines in th e newspapers. They don’t want publicity and want to lead life without the burden of loans.

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