Student volunteers plan illegal

Heather Fors

Among shelves of books, a collection of chairs and a table full of vegetarian morsels, a conclave of humanitarian activists assembled at a West Bank bookstore Friday to plan an illegal journey to Iraq.
body text = = Two local activists, Jessica Sundin and University junior Jen Udelhofen, shared details of their upcoming trip to Iraq. International sanctions on excursions to the country could leave the travelers with fines and jail time.
body text = = The trip is meant to show solidarity to Iraqi citizens; the travelers plan to bring and distribute food and medicine at a time when the country is plagued by hardships stemming from the United Nations’ sanctions.
body text = = “It’s always been one of those things that looms beyond the ocean where we don’t have to think about it; where we, as Americans, don’t have to think about it,” said Emmanuel Ortiz, an “ally” of the organizers and a volunteer at Mayday Books. He said he looks forward to hearing the stories the young volunteers will bring back.
body text = = Udelhofen, a member of the Progressive Student Organization and junior in sociology, and Sundin, the Midwest regional director of the Committee in Solidarity with People in El Salvador, will make the trip with about 100 others from across the nation.
body text = = As of Friday, the two groups raised $3,000 of the $4,000 needed to cover travel and lodging for the two women. Fund-raisers solicited money from petition signers, supportive professors, the Iraq Peace Action Coalition and other groups.
body text = = Udelhofen and Sundin will leave the United States on May 6 for Amman, Jordan. The sanctions prohibit them from flying direct and importing goods into Iraq. Violators face up to 12 years in jail and $250,000 in fines. The mere presence of Americans in Iraq is a violation of the sanctions.
body text = = The women will carry thousands of dollars worth of dehydrated food and medical supplies. Trip organizers encouraged the volunteers to pack extra medical supplies to give as gifts to Iraqis encountered, Udelhofen said. The lack of supplies leaves doctors helpless in curing simple diseases.
body text = = “The doctors can diagnose easily, but can’t do anything about it,” Sundin said.
body text = = The women said they will share their experiences with others when they come back in hopes of changing the sanctions.
body text = = “I know I’m going to see a lot of suffering there, but I’m also going to see a lot of fire because these people have survived through the sanctions,” Sundin said. “We want to bring some of that fire back with us.”
body text = = But the need to help others has not quelled all the worries of the women, who will not face legal implications until they return to the United States.
body text = = “My only hesitation is not leaving the country, but coming back,” Udelhofen said, adding defiantly, “I’m not scared.”