In Iraq, almost 2 million people are still displaced after the conflict with ISIS. Even though the conflict finished in 2017, many of these families have not been able to return home because of the level of destruction and lack of basic services.
For four years these people have lived in precarious conditions, and are now trying to get on with their lives, in particular by means of employment. This is the case of Saadya. She lives in Chamisku camp and tells us her story.
Saadya In Iraq, almost 2 million people are still displaced after the conflict with ISIS. Even though the conflict finished in 2017, many of these families have not been able to return home because of the level of destruction and lack of basic services. For four years these people have lived in precarious conditions, and are now trying to get on with their lives, in particular by means of employment. This is the case of Saadya. She lives in Chamisku camp and tells us her story. Right in the centre of Chamisku, in a camp of displaced Iraqis where nearly 30,000 people are living, we found Saadya. Thirty years of age with six children and impressively dignified, she welcomes us to her home to tell us about her day-to-day life and to present to us her business, a boutique that sells and makes alterations to clothes. Just like many other displaced people, she had to flee from the region of Sinjar, west of Mosul, in 2014 upon the arrival of ISIS. Identified by the Action Against Hunger team, she joined the employment opportunity programmei where she received training and support to open her boutique, as well as psychological support.
Alhan, the psycho-social worker who has been working with Saadya for nearly a year, accompanies us. She is very familiar with Saadya’s home and leads us to the living area. The tent is divided into two parts: an entrance that serves as a storeroom and kitchen and a living room area scattered with mattresses and cushions that serve as beds at night. In the semi-darkness, the traits of the face of our hostess become more apparent as our eyes become adjusted to the darkness. Her golden skin, fine anxiety lines, a black scarf framing two huge, dark eyes that look at us with kindness. Her hands, large and slender, fly to the rhythm of her words and gently push away the children who try to enter the living room.
Saadya begins her story. In her past life, happy, she reminisces of the times when she did not work and could take care of her children with her mother-in-law, ͞“We were able to build a house thanks to the money my husband earned”.͟ Everything changed when ISIS took control of large parts of the region, pillaging and destroying in their wake. ͞“I have seen recent videos of my village, my house is completely destroyed, there is nothing left.”
Displacement is a sensitive subject. When I asked her if she had brought anything with her from her former life, she became upset. Her voice trembles, she sighs deeply, and tries to respond holding back her tears ͞“I don’t have anything left.”
We exchange a look with the photographer, the camera turns away. Alhan speaks softly in Kurdish, she is beside Saadya. She reassures her, she reminds her of the progress made over the last year. She is the one who supports her psychologically to help her face her displacement, painful past and the loss of her husband a short while after they fled.
Soon after her arrival, Saadya became a widow, ͞“One day, he left for work on a building site. My phone rang twice with friends asking me what had happened to him. They had heard the news before me. Then the hospital called me in the end to tell me that my husband had died from a head injury.”
After his death, she found herself alone with her children. Faced with this situation and coupled with the trauma of having to flee, Saadya felt lost, ͞I did not know what to do to take care of them, I felt constantly tired, I did not eat, I fell ill.͟She explains to us that it was for her children that she found the strength to fight,͞I saw them affected by my situation, without anyone taking care of them. Then I tried to confront my situation, be stronger, and help them more.
"I saw them affected by my situation, without anyone taking care of them. Then I tried to confront my situation, be stronger, and help them more."
Chamisku camp, Iraq
The psychological support given by Alhan has helped her to overcome this test.
In parallel, she has received training, funds and support for setting up her boutique, ͞“I received two sewing machines, a generator, everything I need. I never imagined that one day I would receive all this. My situation has completely changed. Some of my clients are old neighbours that I have not seen for years. We have become friends.”
Saadya takes us to her shop. Adjacent to her tent, her boutique exudes colours and the sounds of lively discussions between women who are rummaging and bargaining for clothes. The contrast is astonishing in this camp, faded by the sun, where everyone flees from the heat. Saadya circulates amongst the women and shows them the clothes. Money changes hands and clients leave smiling with their colourful children’s outfits. They might come back for an alteration.
At the time of saying goodbye, Saadya gives Alhan a hug. In three days, she has sold enough to support the needs of her family for a whole month. In the car Alhan turns around towards us, ͞“There lies the real strength of this project, many people we have been counselling have overcome extremely difficult situations that have affected their capacity to manage everyday life, that of their family or that in the workplace. Thanks to the psychological support, we are seeing a huge improvement. It makes me happy seeing these changes and seeing these independent women succeed working and getting out of this situation.”
i European Regional Development and Protection Programme (RDPP) by Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq is a four-year initiative launched in July 2014. The RDPP is funded by eight European donors: Czech Republic, Denmark, EC (DEVCO), Ireland, Holland, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
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