The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday March 30th

Activist's Mission Leads to Middle East

But few actually have the opportunity to travel halfway around the globe in pursuit of their objectives.

Tomas Murawski is one of the few.

In January, while other students were waiting in line for books and meal plans, the junior journalism major was en route to Iraq to document the effects of United Nations sanctions that limit international trade and travel with the country.

Iraq is a concern for humanitarians like Murawski because the nation's death rate has multiplied during the decade since the Persian Gulf War.

"Basically, nothing goes in or out of the country," he said. "This leads to death by malnutrition and illnesses that go untreated."

Murawski has been involved in social issues since his sophomore year at UNC, including working for Students United for a Responsible Global Environment and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and hosting a show on WXYC called "Northern Hemisphere Live."

Murawski first became interested in the conditions of Iraq last semester when British Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer visited the University. "Meyer is really pro-sanction," Murawski said. "I printed up protest fliers, and I actually got into a spat with him. I've been really active on the issue since then."

Soon after, Murawski discovered the trip to Iraq sponsored by Conscience International, an organization that leads social and political activists to countries in Africa and the Middle East.

With funds from SURGE and the University along with money from his own pocket, Murawski joined the first American delegation unaffiliated with the government to fly into Iraq.

"It was really different flying over there because the security was really lacking. There are very few travelers and tourists, so the metal detectors don't even work," Murawski said of Saddam International Airport.

During his six days in Iraq, Murawski spent most of his time in the city of Basra. There he toured several hospitals, schools and one government building in his attempt to gather evidence of the sanctions' negative effects.

Murawski talked to doctors who reported disasters with power outages during operations.

He also spent time in a pediatric ward where he observed "horrible sanitation," such as the recycling of disposable breathing tubes. "It's just really sad to see things like two babies in one incubator," Murawski said. "Most of the cancer patients there are children."

Since his return to U.S. soil, Murawski has been focusing on sharing his experiences with as many people as possible. He has contacted area radio stations, written guest editorials in several campus publications and plans to address an international studies class next week. "I want to educate students about the situation in Iraq and give them some ideas on what they can do to help," he said.

"Tomas is a very hardworking, committed guy," said senior Dennis Markatos, who has worked closely with Murawski in SURGE.

"It takes a lot of courage to travel to a country like Iraq where there is so much anti-U.S. sentiment," Markatos said. "He sacrificed schoolwork and money out of his own pocket to go so he could help us better understand what is going on over there."

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