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U.Va. Makes Royal Connections with International Relief Foundation

A visit last fall by Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, who came to the University of Virginia to talk about her international relief agency, led to U.Va. Women’s Center Director Sharon Davie meeting Prince Charles at a reception earlier this month in London.

The prince commended U.Va. for collaborating with the international AMAR Foundation, which Nicholson founded in 1991 to help Iraqi refugees after the first Gulf War. The prince, a patron of the organization, and Davie attended the foundation’s 21st anniversary reception, held Feb. 6.

AMAR stands for “Assisting Marsh Arabs and Refugees,” according to the foundation’s website. While Iraqi Kurds fled government persecution, “marsh Arabs” people who lived in the Tigris-Euphrates marshlands in the south and east of Iraq and along the Iranian border also left the country after the Iraqi government deliberately drained the marshlands.

“The word ‘amar’ also translates as ‘the builder’ in some Arabic dialects, so although the charity has since evolved far beyond this original mission, the AMAR name continues to this day, reminding us of our central mission – ‘rebuilding lives,’” the website says.

Other attendees at the London reception included 1983 U.Va. alumnae Margaret "Missy" Casscells-Hamby, a board member of the U.S. affiliate of AMAR, and Peggy Harrison, a Charlottesville photographer; and Stewart Gamage, director of Morven programs, who is leading U.Va.’s participation in the Presidential Precinct.

They were among more than 250 guests who packed the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords in London, including Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Dr. Rowsch Shaways; UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova; and Christopher Kyriacou, CEO of AMAR-U.S.

The AMAR Foundation has extended its efforts beyond Iraq to help more people in areas of civil conflict, rebuilding lives within communities under stress by creating and sustaining professional services in medicine, public health, education and other basic needs.

When the Women’s Center hosted Nicholson on Grounds in September to give a public talk about AMAR, Davie also arranged for her to meet with several groups from U.Va.’s International Studies Office, Center for Global Health and Center for International Studies. Participants included Jeffrey Legro, vice provost for global affairs and professor of politics in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences; Dr. Rebecca Dillingham, director of the Center for Global Health and assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health; and Majida Bargach, interim director of the Center for International Studies.

They talked about conducting research on the program’s successes and participating in the foundation’s initiatives, Davie said.

Students also met with Nicholson, and talks are under way to create internships at the AMAR-U.S. affiliate in Washington, D.C., she said.

While in London, Davie, who is writing an article about AMAR as part of her research on women activists, interviewed Dr. Ali Nasser Muthanna, the head of AMAR’s public healthinitiatives, and talked with Iraqi health volunteers -- women who go door-to-door, dispensing health educational materials -- and other women who work in children’s schools.

“The Women’s Center is eager to work with AMAR as part of our international initiatives,” Davie said.

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