“We are six people in our tent,” Sory Rasno says. “At night, the wind keeps us awake. There is no privacy, no space. The children start school this year, but they have no place to study. Here we can forget some of our problems.”
“Here” is a women-friendly space at a camp for internally displaced people in northern Iraq. These spaces give women, who traditionally do not speak in public in these communities, a forum and protected space to meet. Here young girls sit on plastic chairs along the wall, knitting. In the middle, a young woman demonstrates on a girl how to twist her hair into an elaborate hairdo. Elderly women are gathered around sewing machines, discussing patterns for dresses and blouses.
The windows are foggy where the breath of many people has condensed; the floor is covered in the mud of many boots. This is the place where faiths, cultures, and life stories meet.
Impromptu language classes often happen in these spaces—the Kurdish-speaking Yazidis teach the Arabic-speaking Christians their language and vice versa. For many Kurds, Arabic is the language spoken by the Iraqi dictator who persecuted the Kurds in the North.
ACT Alliance says, “The humanitarian crisis in Iraq remains one of the largest and most volatile in the world, with a complex reality, rapidly changing vulnerabilities, and serious economic problems. However, despite the defeat of ISIS in Iraq over a year ago, there is still great need for help in order to break the cycle that led to the current events.” Regions like Nineveh and Mosul are still unstable, and livelihoods have been severely damaged and even completely destroyed.
The causes of humanitarian crises (such as the current situation in Iraq) are complex, often interacting in ways that exacerbate the impact on people and communities. The results are the same—death, destruction of shelter and livelihood, wide-scale displacement of people, hunger, and a lack of access to clean water.
Conflict is one key factor in the increase in both the scale and number of humanitarian crises globally. Conflict not only displaces many people, but also makes delivery of assistance more difficult. As a community of faith, the United Church adds its support to a network of global faith-based organizations working together to respond to crises and to support communities to rebuild homes and lives, and restore livelihoods. Now more than ever we are called to persevere in a compassionate response that manages not only the immediate impact of crisis, but also addresses the underlying causes of disaster so that communities become more able to cope with crisis.
ACT Alliance members have responded in Iraq by providing food, water and shelter items. De-mining (the removal of landmines), landmine awareness education, water infrastructure repairs, and provision of building materials have enabled some Iraqi families to return to their homes. The rebuilding of schools has encouraged some children to return to school, ensuring that children will have access to education.
The lack of income is one of the most commonly mentioned problems among both internally displaced people and returnee families. ACT members responded with cash for work activities, sustainable income generation through providing training, equipment for farming, as well as business start-ups or re-start-ups. Women and children receive specialized help to cope with their negative experiences. Social reconciliation activities helped to restore the trust between different ethnic and religious communities that was severely damaged by the recent conflict.
The generous support of United Church people has contributed to making a difference in the lives of Iraqis.
—Pat Elson is the Emergency Response Coordinator in the Church in Mission Unit of the General Council Office.