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From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up
By France Griggs Sloat

Jim Miller has been trying to get his undergraduate degree for about 27 years, but it looks like his plans will be foiled once again. He’s going to Baghdad.

Miller doesn’t mind, though. In fact, the mission is what he lives for. At age 46, Miller, a senior in Xavier’s weekend degree program for adults, has been offered a spot on the team being put together by an international organization that helps patch up war-torn countries.

Miller went with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to Bosnia in 1996 and again in 2001, quitting his information technology jobs at Cincinnati-area companies. His job on the first Bosnia mission was to prepare the country for mass elections, which meant writing the voting software programs and monitoring the computer systems through the election. The job then switched to processing property claims by those who’d been “ethnically cleansed.” His first stint lasted 13 months.

He got the job by responding to an Internet ad. Five days later, he had $10,000 in his pocket and was on a plane to Vienna. “I don’t know if it was a midlife crisis, but I was just ready for something new, and the more adventurous the better,” he says.

Adventurous it was. But it was also emotionally draining. He heard stories of people who dodged bullets while fetching water or bread, or got their land back only to see their house blown up. He finally left. “It was life-changing,” he says.

Now, the organization is contracting with the provisional government in Iraq to let it manage the property reclamation process when, or if, the Iraqis take over this summer. With about 300,000 property claims successfully completed in Bosnia, the IOM is ready to help Iraqis reclaim what Saddam Hussein took from them. And Miller is ready to go despite the greater danger. The call could come any day. “If there’s an injustice and I can do anything to help, I’m a sucker for that,” he says.

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