Americans make over homes to update styles and add conveniences. Iraqis make them over not so much for aesthetics, but literally to get a roof back over their heads.
“Labor and Materials,” which rebuilds houses damaged in the Iraq War, airs each Friday on Iraqi satellite TV. Begun in June 2003, its popularity is soaring.
The 15-minute show is a “smash hit,” according to “Outlook,” a radio program from the BBC World Service. Its recent nine-minute segment on the show profiled one of three homes that have been reconstructed.
The house was home to three families: a Christian family, a Kurdish family and an Iraqi Muslim family. About 70 percent of the house was destroyed. The families found temporary shelter while they pondered how to rebuild a home with no money.
About a week after the house was destroyed, however, the Al-Sharqiya satellite channel showed up to rebuild the home and tape the process.
“At first, we didn’t believe their offer,” one of the family members told “Outlook.” “We were completely shocked, and then slowly everyone started to express their happiness.”
The reconstruction process takes about 45 days and costs roughly $28,000, wrote Annia Ciezadlo in a Christian Science Monitor article. Ciezadlo said cash for repairs comes from other viewers who respond to a message at the end of each show. She also noted that donations count toward a Muslim’s requirement to give yearly to charity.
Several thousand families in Baghdad alone have applied to the show, but the selection process and show production are slow. Those chosen must be able to prove that their house was destroyed as a direct result of the war, and that the loss made them homeless.
“This show is one of the few places where ordinary Iraqis can turn on the TV and see something being fixed,” said Ciezadlo in an interview segment for NPR’s Weekend Edition last August.
She also said the show “has a very nationalistic, Iraqi flavor,” with many members of the crew being former Baathists who used to work for the Ministry of Information.
“The whole idea that they’re rebuilding houses that were bombed by Americans is kind of a key part of the show,” said Ciezadlo. She added that, in her opinion, the vast majority of Iraqis are loathe to admit that insurgents are also responsible for some of the destruction.
“Labor and Materials” rebuilds the home, then stocks it with new furniture and appliances.
“The goal is to help families whose houses were damaged in the war,” show producer Riyadh Salman told the BBC World Service. “We start from scratch and finish by putting furniture in these houses. We want to motivate government institutions and human rights organizations to take their share in the reconstructions. But in spite of all the calls we’ve made to them, we’ve haven’t had any response.”
The Al-Sharqiya satellite channel is owned by Iraqi tycoon Saad Bazzaz, who lives in London. More Iraqis prefer the new channel to other networks like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, according to a survey cited in a July 2004 release from The Iraq Press.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.