CAUSE: The Mosul Crisis – Preemptive Love Coalition

A young boy in Mosul named Mustafa* // Photo by Matt Willingham


This week I’m doing a special feature on one of my all time favourite charities — focusing on one of their current efforts in Mosul, Iraq. I connected with Preemptive Love Coalition senior field editor, Matt Willingham, about what’s going on, what we can do to help, how he’s been affected by it all, living in Iraq, and other important issues that PLC is currently assisting with.

Normally I post interviews on separate pages, but I’d like this one to be loud and clear. It will also be linked on my ‘Charity’ page for easy access later.

Emily Koopman:
What exactly is going on in Mosul at the moment?
Matt Willingham: Iraqi forces are battling to remove ISIS militants from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and ISIS’s de facto ‘capital’ in Iraq. As of this writing, ISIS only controls about one third of the city, but they are putting up a fierce fight. At the moment, Iraqi forces are battling street by street through Old Mosul, the most densely populated portion of the city and also one of the most historically and culturally rich city centers in the region.

Koopman: What are some ways that people in North America can help (aside from donating to PLC)?
Willingham: Crave understanding. Do whatever you can to understand people who think and look and feel and believe differently from you. Money is great, and we’d welcome your donations, but I’m convinced the most valuable currency of the world is understanding. What’s more valuable than the ability to really ‘get’ someone else, even if you don’t agree with them? Why are things are the way they are in Iraq? Why do movements like Black Lives Matter exist? I think I’m seeing from your site bio that you’re Canadian, but as an American I am compelled to ask, why is the United States so utterly divided and, in some places, even on the brink of civil conflict? It’s easy to throw out pithy, simplistic answers. Resist that temptation! Go visit a mosque, sit, and listen. Spend time with people of another political party or nationality or another ethnic or racial or religious group and ask questions.

Why does this matter for Mosul? Because, at their core, conflicts like the one unfolding in Iraq and Syria are rooted in misunderstanding and an unwillingness to listen and consider others—they are a lack of creativity, imagination, and vulnerability. I love the old Alexie quote, “When you resort to violence to prove a point, you’ve just experienced a profound failure of imagination.”

Put simply—and if I may be so bold—the best thing you can do for Iraqis and Syrians is not just send money or prayers to improve them but to work hard to improve yourself.

PLC’s food delivery team inside west Mosul city limits // Photo by Matt Willingham

Koopman: You live in Iraq for your work with PLC, have you seen many of these things first hand? Have you been affected by it at all?
Willingham: Yes, we’ve seen a lot of horrible stuff these past few years. Chemical attacks on civilians, dead bodies in the streets, mass graves, mortar fire and air strikes on our aid deliveries, ISIS fighters rolling up on our aid convoy, heard the stories of former ISIS sex slaves and what they experienced…yes, it affects us. I’m grateful we have such a strong community of truly astounding, audaciously loving people here in Iraq. I also have a great therapist and a few really supportive counselors—many of us find counseling really important.

My wife sometimes asks me, “When should we stop? When will it be too much for us to handle?” My response to her has been, “Our hearts have to be broken first if they’re ever going to be fixed.” We aren’t masochists, but we’ve seen how the heartbreak can lead to a more loving and understanding posture, even to a group like ISIS, who is to be pitied above all others.

That said, we’re not so naive as to believe we’re going to walk away from this totally whole or unscathed. It’s really too late for that, just as it’s too late for our Iraqi and Syrian friends here. But the trauma doesn’t mean we are doomed to be malfunctioning, only partial members of society. We’ve got to believe hope and healing are possible for us, because if it isn’t possible for us, how can it ever be possible for the Iraqi and Syrian people we love so much?

Koopman: What are some other areas in emergency that PLC is currently assisting with?
Willingham: We’re actively working across Iraq in places like Baghdad, Fallujah, Tikrit, Kurdistan, and of course Mosul, then we’re also ramping up work across Syria as well. We were working around Aleppo at the height of that conflict and have since moved to working around other conflict zones across northern Syria. Most of our work is delivering emergency food rations or helping people jump start jobs so they can get back to some form of stability (make some money, get kids back in school, live with dignity and purpose, etc.).

*Matt’s notes from talking with Mustafa:

“Why do you want to know my name? Are you a journalist?”

Me: “No, I’m with an organization that brought food for people here.”

“Oh, ok. Well I’m Mustafa. I’m not really from here. ISIS is still in my part of Mosul.”

“Are you working? What is this cart you push around for? Where is your family?”

“My father doesn’t have work, so I look through destroyed buildings for spare pieces of wire and spare parts to sell at the market. Most days, I make enough to buy tomatoes or cucumbers. Some of my family are dead, some are still under ISIS.”

Mustafa and I chatted a few more minutes before he pushed his cart away to the next bombed-out building. He was hoping he’d find and sell enough spare parts to eventually buy nuts or even some meat.

By Emily, on March 23rd, 2017, under Charity, Preemptive Love Coalition // Comments Off on CAUSE: The Mosul Crisis – Preemptive Love Coalition

INTERVIEW: Jenna Rose Simon

Click the photo above to read the interview // Photo from Jenna’s official website

After struggling with an eating disorder for ten years, Jenna Rose Simon began treatment in 2014. Last year, Jenna began to draw concepts that she felt people weren’t understanding in her therapy, starting with her first self-portrait. It was then that Jenna discovered, with the help of her therapist, that drawing would help her and potentially others. Jenna’s sketch depicting verbal abuse went viral and was shared more than 300K times on Facebook. Simon continues to impact others through her Instagram account @gentletouchofart where she shares many of her sketches, including concept art and celebrity pieces.

Born in New Jersey, Jenna Rose Simon grew up as an avid dancer with dreams of going professional. When an injury took her dream away, the self-taught artist Jenna decided to put a portfolio together for submission into a fine arts program. Jenna was quickly accepted at Parsons and Arcadia University, and she attended the latter as a fine arts/art therapy major, before graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. Along with her passion for the arts, Simon discovered her love for acting and booked various commercials, including her first voice-over commercial “The Littlest Pet Shop.” She has also lent her voice to many characters on audio plays, and recorded “All Your Nightmares,” “Just Jenna Simon Stories” and “Fun Stories with Jenna Simon,” in which she acted, wrote and directed. In addition, Jenna has appeared in the role of ‘Donna’ on the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum” and was cast in the “Art of Confession,” playing the dual roles of ‘Arla’ and ‘Lucy.’

By Emily, on March 21st, 2017, under Interviews // Comments Off on INTERVIEW: Jenna Rose Simon

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: J.M. Barrie’s Birthplace, Scotland, 2001

My friend Eilidh and some orphan waif in the room where ‘Peter Pan’ author J.M. Barrie was born

Shortly after I turned 6, some family friends of ours took my mom and I with them to Scotland. This was my first major trip out of North America. We hit all the hot spots, stayed overnight in haunted castles (Eilidh and I were the original Sam and Dean, y’know), and even made a pit stop outside Aleister Crowley’s former Loch Ness home. One of my favourite memories (from what I can remember of it anyway) was spending some time at J.M. Barrie’s birthplace in Kirriemuir. Barrie is the author of Peter Pan, one of my favourite books, and all-time favourite Disney film. I made my mom dig out her journal (my writing wasn’t exactly legible back then), about the day we spent there. I’m probably going to do these “Flashback Fridays” every so often. Since I’m currently reminiscing of last year’s month long trip to Los Angeles and Disneyland, I figured why not start it off with this pre-Disney experience.

Sunday, April 29th 2001

Once everyone was up, we got into Kathleen’s car and drove exactly one hour to Glamis Castle. It was great – tour only through the public portion of the castle, and then a wander through the shops and gardens – in between drenching showers… Had an expensive soup and sandwich in the old kitchen and after about 3½ hours we left Kirriemuir. Spent about half an hour going through J.M. Barrie’s birthplace, a tiny weaver’s cottage that he was brought up in with 8 brothers and sisters. The washhouse in the back was his model for the “Wendy House”; his dog “Porthos” was “Nana” and his brother that died at 13 was “the boy who never grew up”.

We took the scenic route back to Cults – through heather covered hills, over rushing burns (and the River Esk), and around shadowy glens. Got back about 5:30pm and I gave Emily a bowl of cereal and some fruit and put her to put. Good thing – rest of us didn’t eat until after 8:00.

By Emily, on March 17th, 2017, under Flashback Friday, Personal, Travel // Comments Off on FLASHBACK FRIDAY: J.M. Barrie’s Birthplace, Scotland, 2001

CAUSE: Year of the Elephant – Ivory Free

Click the photo to learn more about WildAid’s Ivory Free initiative

Did you know that in 2012, over 300 elephants were killed within just a few weeks in Bouba Njida National Park, Cameroon? And that within 3 months over 650 of the animals were gone? Between 50 and 100 poachers were involved in this massacre and for only a single part of their body: the tusks. When elephants are hunted for this reason, the tusks are usually hacked off with a machete while they’re still alive; the rest of the elephant is discarded and left for dead. Oftentimes parts of the ears and trunks will also be removed and kept as trophies. The sad truth is, more than 30,000 elephants are poached in Africa alone each year. states that the estimated value of a kilogram of uncarved ivory is around $2,100. Is that really worth the unlawful death of the world’s largest living mammal?

Between 1970 and 1989, African elephant populations were decimated as legal “regulated” trade in ivory enabled the laundering of illegal ivory from poached elephants. In 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) abandoned attempts at regulation and passed a ban on the international ivory trade. Though the 1989 ban was initially a great success — cutting ivory prices overnight, reducing poaching and allowing elephant populations a chance to recover — such progress sadly was short-lived. The growth of newly affluent markets in Asia, predominantly in China, coupled with “one-off” sales of African ivory stockpiles in 1999 (to Japan) and in 2008 (China and Japan), allowed illegal markets to flourish, particularly in China. Corruption, poor enforcement and a lack of prosecutions have further contributed to the crisis.

How can you help?
– First and foremost, do not buy items containing elephant ivory or accept gifts containing ivory.
– Tell your friends and relatives never to buy or accept ivory as a gift.
– Contact your elected officials asking them what steps they are taking to end the illegal ivory trade.
Sign WildAid’s Ivory Free pledge, vowing to lend your voice to the 30,000 elephants who are killed in Africa each year for their tusks.

Sources: WildAid, IFAW’s Céline Sissler-Bienvenu/Huffington Post, WWF,

By Emily, on March 16th, 2017, under Causes // Comments Off on CAUSE: Year of the Elephant – Ivory Free


This Week’s Theme: Strong Women

This is something new I’m trying out, I’m not sure if people will like it or not, but I’m really excited to give it a go! Every second week I’m going to pick a theme, and five things that I like related to said theme. Since it was International Women’s Day last week, I thought it would be appropriate to choose “Strong Women” to get the ball rolling. Without further ado, here are the inaugural five items!

I Am Malala: I’m sure by now you’ve heard the name “Malala” somewhere. If not, I’m unsure of what rock you’ve been living under for the past 5 years. Either way, I’m gonna give you the lowdown: In 2012, the Swat Valley in Pakistan was overtaken by the Taliban (defined as a ‘Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan’). This led to an eradication of the already limited education for women. At only 15, Malala refused to be silenced and continued to speak publicly about women’s rights to education. On October 9th 2012, she was shot in the head by a Taliban member. I Am Malala explores the uprooted life of this Pakistani family, and Malala’s unparalleled advocacy for the cause she cares most about. There is also a documentary on Netflix, He Named Me Malala, which gives a brief overview of her story. You can pick up the autobiography at your local bookstore or on Amazon.

Too Faced Melted Matte Liquefied Lipstick in Child Star: Okay, I have been obsessed with this lipstick since I picked it up at Sephora in February. As the name implies, it has a matte finish and doesn’t completely dry out your lips (the formula includes avocado oil and vitamin E). My current favourite shade is “Child Star”: a nude/pink that goes great with all the black I wear. I know a number of insanely awesome girls who are or were former child stars, which is why I included it with this week’s theme!

Here’s ya girl sporting Too Faced’s Melted lipstick in “Child Star”

Little Mix – Glory Days: I’m guilty of being obsessed with Little Mix since they were put together on X-Factor back in 2011. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t super stoked on their first or sophomore albums, but I adored Get Weird and I’m absolutely loving Glory Days. Some of my favourite songs are “Oops” featuring and co-written by Charlie Puth, “Touch”, “No More Sad Songs”, and “You Gotta Not”. It’s all pure pop bliss, so if you’re into that, I highly recommend the girls’ fourth studio album. Not only is this site fun, but it’s also educational. You can quiz yourself on everything from the most common English words to the chronological order of Britney Spears’ albums. When I get sucked in, I fall down the world’s largest rabbit hole of quizzes. I almost know every country’s capital now! The African ones are the trickiest.

Project Mc²: Disclaimer: This is a kid’s show. It’s meant for young girls, but I ended up checking it out because an actress that co-starred in a short film I produced at VFS has a major role in it. (For those curious, her name is Alyssa Lynch and she plays the rebellious artist, Devon DeMarco.) Anyway, the plot follows McKeyla, Adrienne, Bryden, and Camryn who are, to quote IMDb, “four super smart and science-skilled girls recruited to join the spy organization, NOV8”. This is something I would have ADORED as a kid. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of spy gear and gadgets I owned growing up. If you have younger siblings, cousins, babysit, or even just know some girls ages 8-12, I suggest turning on Netflix and checking it out with them. It gets better after the first few episodes. Needless to say, I binge-watched the entire series a of couple weeks ago. Alone.

Well, that’s it for this week! I hope you enjoyed reading about some of my favourite things!


By Emily, on March 13th, 2017, under Bi-Weekly Faves, Personal // Comments Off on BI-WEEKLY FAVES: Strong Women