16 Dec 2016 |

Hairdressing in a tent

At the Mission East youth centre on Sinjar Mountain, 50 young Yezidi girls have learnt to cut hair, while others have become adept at using a sewing machine.

By Kim Wiesener, Communications Officer

The young girls are handling the situation with a combination of seriousness and smiles. They are intensely focused on creating a beautiful, almost Hollywood-like, hairstyle for their friend, but it is also obvious that they are having fun.

The girls are taking lessons at the Mission East youth centre in Sardeshte Camp in Northern Iraq. The centre is located in a big tent where girls and young women from the age of 12 can receive a basic introduction to hairdressing. One of them is 14-year old Fasa who – like thousands of other members of Iraq’s persecuted Yezidi minority – has sought refuge on Sinjar Mountain. She has attended the hairdressing school for the past month.

“I like coming here. Perhaps I can have my own salon one day,” she said. This remark sums up the purpose of the classes that are meant to help the students find a profession later in life.

Sewing machines 

Elsewhere in the tent a group of girls are hitting the sewing machine pedals. They are being taught to make t-shirts, shirts and dresses on recently acquired Chinese machines. Manual sewing machines might be considered outdated in a country like Denmark, but in a camp with limited access to electricity they are the perfect solution and have added quality to the classes.

The young, displaced Yezidis at Sardeshte Camp are able to influence their curriculum. They present their wishes to Mission East and its Iraqi partner organization, Humanity, that runs the youth centre. The curriculum includes English and IT lessons, and advanced IT may end up replacing the hairdressing lessons. So many Yezidi girls have now learnt to cut hair that the time is ripe for new challenges.

Far from the world 

Sardeshte Camp is situated on the barren plateau on Sinjar Mountain where thousands of Yezidis sought refuge in 2014 when the terrorist movement Islamic State conquered large parts of Northern Iraq. They carried out massacres against the Yezidi minority that they consider infidels and whose ancient religion they despise. Thousands were killed, and tens of thousands had to flee.

The informal Sardeshte camp is different from the more organised UN camps that have straight rows of tents. Here, tents and sheds lie spread across a very large area, and the world community seems very far away. But Mission East and a few other aid organisations are here, and at the centres children and youth find inspiration to get away from the ordeal that life has offered them.

Fasa was also displaced from her home village when IS arrived. She was initially held captive for two days, and since then she has been a refugee. For a long time, she and her family stayed in another location in Kurdistan, and for the past six months they have lived in Sardeshte Camp.

It is uncertain when they will be able to leave. May Yezidis doubt that they can ever go home because they no longer consider it safe. Fasa, however, has little doubt, even though she does not know whether her family home is still standing: “I would like to return to my village if IS leaves,” she said.