Linked with Circus2Iraq C2I.
She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “What I wrote in Iraq was based on my first hand experience of talking to Iraqi people, whom I lived and worked with. They informied me about what’s happening to them now and during the war, suffering under the UN sanctions, while UK and other countries were funding, supporting and arming the former Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, despite his well-known human rights violation record”.
She says also: “Play and laughter is so important to the mental and social environment of children, which is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Children”.
‘Send in the clown’, Jo Wilding’s unembedded reports from Fallujah brought home the horror of the American assault on the city. But when she wasn’t blogging, she was wearing stilts and trying to cheer up Iraq’s traumatised children. She tells Emine Saner why she risked her life for total strangers. (full text).
Jo Wilding – England
She works for Circus2Iraq C2I.
See her own website (’Don’t Shoot the Clowns’).
Originally motivated by political demonstrations, Jo set off to the Middle East to advocate peace and justice in Palestine, Israel and Iraq, sometimes risking her life in these vulnerable areas. She has constructed a cyber website where she writes extensively about people who are physically and mentally traumatized as a result of of armed violence.
She also took a small circus, in which she herself plays a clown, to Iraq in an effort to bring laughter and healing to the traumatized people, especially the children. Now Jo is receiving legal training to become a human rights lawyer.
She was born in Jersey in 1973 and moved to Sussex, UK in 1980. She did well at school, obtaining 9 GCSEs at the Old Grammar School, Lewes at age 16. This was followed by taking 3 A-levels (German, English Literature and Psychology) at Brighton and Hove Sussex Sixth Form College aged 18. She spent a year working in farming and fishing, as well as bar work.
She obtained her B.A from the University of Newcastle, where she got a combined honors degree in Geography, Spanish and Sport Studies. She then completed an MSc in Exercise and Health Science at the University of Bristol.
In September 2001, she signed up for a two-years part-time postgraduate Diploma in Law at the University of the West of England, which would qualify her to pursue a later prospective career as a human rights lawyer. She worked voluntarily as a mental health advocate at ‘Bristol Mind’, and at ‘Bristol Law Center’ for immigration, reception and welfare rights.
Jo began joining peace protests in May 2000. Being outraged by the severe impacts of sanctions, she set off to Iraq in August 2001, where she witnessed at first hand the daily afflictions of ordinary Iraqi people. However, her activities were not confined to Iraq.
In May 2002, she formed a group of peace activists who headed off to the besieged Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, providing food and care for the besieged people and escorting an international team of observers. The month-long siege ended shortly after the team entered the church to give care to the people inside. Jo and her group stayed outside the church to guard the Church gate. Having survived that and while trying to leave the scene, she was arrested with others and was detained for five days.
However, she did not feel down. When the Israel authorities took action to deport her group she called for a hunger strike in protest against the decision.
Jo was strongly opposed to the American invasion of Iraq. In February 2003 she returned to Iraq to support the ordinary Iraqis. She remained there for 11 days after the outbreak of war in March, interviewing civilian casualties and documenting the reality of the war and its impact upon the people.
She believed that the world media were not fairly reporting the exorbitant repercussions of the war on the civilians, so she published their stories on her website to flag up the truth. However, she was deported by the provisional Iraqi Foreign Ministry.
But Jo’s character is not such that can easily give up when she feels that she can help people. So, she returned to Iraq in November 2003 and worked to set up networks between medical students in Baghdad and Newcastle, where she had once been a student. Her intention was that the UK students could help rehabilitate the labs and libraries that the war has damaged.
As a result, they have raised funds for buying CD-ROMs and computer equipment, and launched a donation campaign for collecting used textbooks and curriculum information to help Iraqi medical education that has been paralyzed by 13 years of sanctions. It was clear that Iraqis could not attend overseas conferences or import medical journals and textbooks either.
Sometimes her help has been downright inspirational: few would consider bringing a circus, even a small one, to an area torn apart by war.
Despite the hazardous situation, her ‘Circus2Iraq’ toured all over Iraqi territories for six weeks, from mid February to end of March 2004, performing in a tens of venues, such as IDP (Internally Displaced People) and refugee camps, schools, and even the National Theatre.
The circus crew endured dangers and discomforts, but were able to bring joy and laughter to the traumatized children.
Jo flew back to Baghdad in April 2004, when news came through that Falluja was under fierce bombardment. While giving medical support to some wounded Iraqis she came under heavy shelling and many around her were killed or injured. She rushed to help with the rescue operations of casualties who escaped from Falluja, and traveled with them in an ambulance that was shot at while on the way to the hospital. However, many casualties died on the way to a makeshift clinic because the hospital had been destroyed.
She has written vividly of her experiences with the injured and the dying. That was probably her most risky experience, where she could have lost her life.
Jo has a strong sense of justice that has gradually developed through her enormously intersectional experience. Since her return from Iraq, she has spent a month in the USA talking about her first-hand experience of living with traumatized ordinary people in a country devastated by war.
More recently, she has been working with Members of Parliament in the UK on an ‘Early Day Motion’ calling upon the Attorney General to issue arrest warrants for the commanders of US forces in Falluja, to be tried as war criminals under the Geneva Conventions. Jo believes that she has a lot to give in order to help the distressed people in war zones.
However, she is keen on being in a more influential position to be able to maximize her efforts. Therefore, in September 2004 she began her training at Bristol University to become a fully qualified lawyer to further her aims. Since she grew up, she has worked hard and devoted her time to the pursuance of peace. (1000PeaceWomen).
And she says: “I am an activist, clown, trainee lawyer and writer from England. I was in Iraq several times, most recently from November 03 to to May 04. You’ll find my reports from the Middle-East – including the adventures of Circus2Iraq – in the archived Wildfirejo Weblog“.
We’re bringing a small circus to Iraq – why and how you can help.