Finding hope and a second chance in Iraq

Everything changed for Ade and her children when they had to flee their home in Sinjar and leave everything behind one early morning last year. Life as an internally displaced person in northern Iraq is desperately hard, but at Mission East’s centre for support for displaced women and children, Ade gets the chance for a new beginning.

By Mev Bardiqi with translation by Azad Rasho, relief workers, Northern Iraq

"We know stories of Yazidis who have killed themselves because they are unable to cope with this situation," says Ade, a 35 year-old woman who is among Iraq’s 3.2 million displaced people. “But I want to go to school,” Ade says, with an impressive determination and hope for her future. Ade currently lives with her family in an unfinished building in northern Iraq, crowded together with no less than 14 other families. They have been living here since last year when Islamic State captured their village in Sinjar and they had to flee their homes. The building has no doors or windows, but the openings are covered with blankets to provide privacy and protection from the elements. On an otherwise bare floor, the family sits on thin foam mattresses which they received through relief aid.

"We had a good life"

Ade thinks back to the way life was before they fled Sinjar: "We had a farm and cultivated our own vegetables. We had a good life.”  But everything changed that morning. “It was early in the morning and we were asleep at home. Then our men came home and told us to leave now.  We escaped and left everything behind," she says. "We are not happy here. My husband has no job yet, and I miss my neighbours and relatives," says Ade, crying.

Finding a new sense of belonging

Despite the unfortunate situation, a smile appears on Ade’s face when she talks about the community she meets at Mission East’s support centre for displaced women. She has been coming to the centre and participating in support sessions here since the centre was established this summer. The centre aims to improve the psychological and social well-being of women, giving them the support they need to cope with their current difficult situation and the major disruption they have experienced in their lives. Activities at the centre include sessions on health topics such as hygiene and nutrition; basic literacy; and facilitated support group discussions. Trained counsellors who are also displaced women themselves are available for one-on-one counselling.

Ade describes the difference the centre has made to her well-being in this volatile situation: "I can go and talk to other women. It makes me feel like I belong. I am so happy to make new friends."

Children cope with the crisis

Two of Ade’s daughters also come to the centre's “Child-Friendly Space” where they participate in weekly clubs. “I am also very happy because two of my girls go to the Child-Friendly Space,” Ade explains. Without the possibility of going to school since they became displaced, these clubs provide a space for Ade’s children and hundreds of others to play and benefit from informal learning on health topics, social and emotional skills and basic literacy and numeracy. Referring to her daughters’ participation in the clubs, Ade explains, “since they started this they are so well behaved; they come home and remind us to wash our hands, and they also want to help with washing the dishes.” And Ade needs help because one of her sons has a severe disability and requires much care.

“I suffer here, looking after my son, and I spend a lot of nights with no sleep. But when I go to the center I am happy because I forget a lot of things when I am there.”

An old wish

The center not only provides Ade with new friends and a break from her difficult circumstances; an old wish is also coming true. “I love to read and write and I always wanted to learn this as a child.” Ade never went to school. “Now I can write some words.” Among its other activities, the centre provides basic literacy training for displaced women. Ade proudly shows off her new skills by saying the alphabet out loud.

"Thank you and God bless you! Much of what makes me happy is because of you," she concludes.