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Interview with Roni, Robert Anderson

Aired October 18, 2003 - 07:49   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: We have an excellent story, absolutely amazing here. It's a good news story coming out of Iraq and I cover the White House, so we tell a lot of bad news stories. It's good to do this one.
Roni and Robert Anderson, and why don't we just start with you, Robert?

It happened, 1992 you were working for IBM and it was a volunteer mission. It was supposed to last a month and...

ROBERT ANDERSON, CONCERN FOR KIDS: That's right. That's right. I went over to drill for water, to supervise a water operation, to get water for the refugees returning after the Gulf War. And a bunch of little kids living in a prison drafted me and I drafted Roni and that's how we wound up in Duhuque (ph), Iraq for now 12 years.

MALVEAUX: Now, I understand these were Kurdish orphans and they were starving at the time. And I remember, you said something about a phone call that you made to Roni. And she -- what was it that convinced her? You left your job, you left your home. Why did you decide to leave everything behind and the two of you take up the cause?

ROBERT ANDERSON: Well, the children got in our heart. And when we saw 500 little kids raising kids with no adult supervision, no food, no clothing, no electric, no water, they needed everything. And our soft life back here in Atlanta didn't satisfy anymore. We just needed to be over there taking care of the kids. And that's how Concern for Kids started.

MALVEAUX: And, Roni, who were these children? Because obviously Saddam Hussein's regime had killed so many of their parents and you discovered these children, they were living in the same prison where their parents had been killed?

RONI ANDERSON, CONCERN FOR KIDS: Yes. They were living in a prison that was right near the well site where Robert was drilling for fresh water. And they came over in the evening to try to dig through the garbage to get something to eat. Robert went over there to investigate and find out about these children and when he did, he found 8, 9 year olds holding 1 and 2 year olds on their hips, taking care of them. And immediately he went to the U.N., to the only satellite phone back then that they had there, and called me and said, "Honey, these kids need a mama."

MALVEAUX: And you decided to go? RONI ANDERSON: Yes.

MALVEAUX: Now, I understand your work was so successful in 1996, I guess, was the time when Saddam Hussein kicked you out at one point and had a $60,000 bounty on your head? Is that correct?

ROBERT ANDERSON: Continually, yes, continually while we were there we were hunted. The people took care of us while we were taking care of them. It was an amazing thing that we could go in there really in his country and he couldn't put his hands on us. He tried, but he couldn't.

It was a time of great turmoil. There were 62 bombs that the Saddam people put in our town in one month period. Combat all the time. But still, we went forward with our humanitarian efforts and it's paying off. In '96, we brought 6,318 people here to the United States and they turned around and went back as the guides for the U.S. military in the current war situation.

MALVEAUX: Roni, I know you endured a lot of personal sacrifice, as well. You left your own family. You have kids. You have grandkids that obviously you miss. You also got sick during your time, as well.

Can you tell us what was the most difficult period for you?

RONI ANDERSON: Well, I would say it was probably when I contracted hepatitis in the late '92 and had to be airlifted out to Germany for treatment. And I was there for about six weeks. And Robert went back in. So being separated and not knowing exactly what was happening over there, I think that was quite difficult for me.

It's also a little difficult to be away from our children and our grandchildren. But god has provided a lot of little grandchildren over there for us, also.

MALVEAUX: Now, tell us what your organization does, Concern for Kids.

ROBERT ANDERSON: Concern for Kids is mainly focused on the needs of children and parents, one member families where the father has been killed and the mother is trying to raise the children. We have done village health programs, water and sanitation. We've brought in computers for job training, thanks to IBM, my former employer.

MALVEAUX: A little plug there.

ROBERT ANDERSON: And we have also planted village industries like honeybee farms. Saddam even killed the honeybees in Kurdistan. Among the 4,500 villages, he destroyed even the honeybees.

MALVEAUX: Can I ask you one last question? How has it changed since Iraqi, Operation Iraqi Freedom? You worked with the 101st Airborne. What do the Iraqis think of Americans now?

ROBERT ANDERSON: Well, the Iraqis say if the Americans leave, they're all leaving, and they say only Allah is in heaven and George Bush is beside him.

MALVEAUX: Interesting. That's a ringing endorsement.

RONI ANDERSON: They're very, very happy to see the Americans there. The children wave flags and holler, "The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!" And the adults come out and greet them. They're very, very grateful.

MALVEAUX: What is the most difficult thing about being away from home? I know you still have a farm in Georgia, right?


MALVEAUX: You come back and forth a little bit?

ROBERT ANDERSON: Well, every year we try to spend at least a month here in the States to reconnect. But really the hardest thing for us is the overwhelming work and the few NGOs that are in there. Three hundred were applied, 15 were approved, and there are about five who are active in there now.

So we need more people to come in and take part in the work.

MALVEAUX: Well, Roni and Robert, thank you so much.

Continue your great work in Iraq. It's good to have a good news story coming out of that are.

ROBERT ANDERSON: Thank you for having us.




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