Dec 11, 2014

Project “Bringing Hope and Fun” begins in Arbat IDP camp
by Terra Winston

10407601_786159374800636_6630778394365459304_n CPT Iraqi Kurdistan has begun a project, “Bringing Hope and Fun,” to work with children in the Arbat IDP camp, just outside of Sulaimani. Led by our intern, Alicja Zasadowska, and aided by the local organization STEP, we were able to create an activity for the children of the camp.

We asked them to draw a picture and write a story explaining the best day of their lives.  The twenty-five children we were working with ranged in age from five to fifteen.  For many of them, grief and horror has become a central part of their lives.  People often ask them to reflect on these difficult things as they tell their stories.  However, Alicja wanted them to share about something happy, so that they could practice cultivating good memories even in the midst of their trauma.

Alicja faced some resistance as she spoke with others about her intentions to have the children draw and write about happy moments.  One father told her, 'My children know nothing of joy; this project will not work.'  Some of the staff at the camp warned her that 'these children do not have happy stories to tell.'  Another NGO questioned why we would want to share happy things, when sad stories influence people much more.  However, her focus was not on others but solely on the children.

The look on the faces of these children when we asked them to share about happy moments was priceless.  One fifteen-year-old young man burst into a smile and shook his head, “yes.”  You could almost see him transported to another place and time a he began to work on his drawing.  These children have been though so much, but are still capable of happiness and of remembering joy.  Even while we were setting up for the project a group of girls begin playing a clapping game in a circle.

For me, while sitting with people in their grief is difficult, I found it equally challenging to sit with these children in their joy and creativity.  The humanity of young people drawing is something that I could easily connect to and understand.  However, at times, something would call me out of their joy and into the surroundings of the IDP camp, and those moments almost broke my heart.  The juxtaposition of these young people as they drew, made silly faces, sang songs, and giggled against the sorrow, cold tents, and worry of us grownups for their future, overwhelmed me.

“Bringing Hope and Fun” will be an ongoing project for CPT Iraqi Kurdistan.  We hope to have an online gallery and perhaps create a book of the Arbat youths’ stories and drawings.  We also hope to have a display at the camp for the children and their families to enjoy.  We will update our Facebook page and CPTnet as these activities occur.  In the meantime, please keep them in your prayers.

Dec 6, 2014

Collecting the names of the missing
by Terra Winston
Last month, Alicja Zasadowska, an intern with the Iraqi Kurdistan Team and I accompanied our partners, the Zhyan group, to Duhok to visit the Khanke IDP Camp, about a seven hour drive through the mountains.

The Khanke camp is currently the home to several thousand families, mostly Ezidi/Yazidi from the Shangal Mountain (“Sinjar” in Arabic.)  According to others who had traveled there earlier in the fall, the families are recovering well given the circumstances, but you can still see the scars of where they were sunburned from spending days on the mountain with no shelter or water.

This visit was truly one of the most humbling experiences of my life to date.  We spent a weekend collecting the names of 961 women kidnapped by ISIS (we noted the names of men on a separate sheet).  I am sure we could have collected many more names had time allowed.  We simply went from one UNHCR* tent to the next, sat with families, and heard their stories.  One man with whom we spoke has sixty-six missing family members, another twenty-eight.  At times, it felt like the grief and the list of names would never end.  Even as the sun set on us and the camp closed for the evening, we heard of more buses on their way to the camp from Kobane, Syria.
image2Along with sharing the names of their family members, people expressed their concerns about the weather.  One man shared with us that he had “family that died because they couldn't escape ISIS, family that died on the mountain, family that died on the long walk to the camp, and now those that survived will die in their UN tents from the cold.”  Winter is fast approaching; the nights are already down to 42 degrees Fahrenheit/ 6 Celsius.  The families are no longer allowed to have heaters in their tents because two tents burned down due to a heater fire that killed two adults and three children.

The Kurdish Regional Government and the UN are trying to come up with solutions but are losing to the pace of the oncoming weather changes.
Even among this sorrow, children played soccer, braided one another's hair and hugged teddy bears and dolls.  Parents held babies, cooked what food they could and folded blankets neatly.  Life continues and hope continues where it can.