Saadya with her six children stands in her new boutique which she set up with the support of Action Against Hunger UK.

After ISIS - The Yezidi women rebuilding their children's lives

Mothers Ameera and Saadya - whose lives were destroyed by ISIS - are looking to the future. 

By Action Against Hunger

Feb 22 2019

For the Yezidi communities, a small religious sect which lived in northern Iraq and Syria, the conflict between the Iraqi military and ISIS from 2014 and 2017 were extremely dangerous times, particularly for women and children. Yezidi women such as Ameera and Saadya faced the constant threat of kidnap, forced marriage and trafficking by ISIS fighters. In December, 2017, the civil war in Iraq drew to a close after Mosul was recaptured by the military. Since the end of fighting, there is finally a chance to think about the future, restore hope and rebuild lives and for mothers such as Ameera and Saadya, a chance to contemplate a life for their children where violence is absent. 

AMEERA REDISCOVERS HER PASSION

Before conflict broke out in Iraq in 2014, Ameera, in her twenties, worked in a salon. Living in Sinjar in northwestern Iraq on the border with Syria, she was expecting her first child with her husband.

Ameera's life was turned upside down in August, 2014 when ISIS targeted the Yezidi community. Hunger took its toll on Yezidi children as they, and Ameera's unborn child, were caught in ISIS's campaign of atrocities as they were forced to flee to Mount Sinjar. “I was pregnant when I fled to the mountains. I saw children die of hunger and thirst on the mountain. I lost contact with my husband while fleeing, because I was not with him when leaving," said Ameera. 

Fortunately, Ameera's husband was alive and safe, and they were reunited after ISIS fighters were driven away from Sinjar by American airstrikes. 

The conflict, however, had destroyed the life they created together.  

"I lost everything that day. We were happy before, we had a farm and a house.” Ameera said sadly. 

Since 2014, Ameera and her husband have been forced to live in a displacement camp in Chasmisku just outside Dohuk.

With their livelihoods ruined by conflict, the threat to Ameera's unborn baby at the time was severe. The right food is especially vital during pregnancy as women who have a poor nutritional status at conception and during pregnancy are at a higher risk of disease and death. Babies of mothers are often born prematurely, underweight, or sick if their mother is suffering from malnutrition. Her husband was sick, and could not help her to support the needs of the family. 

In response to the destruction of livelihoods and lives by the civil war, Action Against Hunger developed a two-fold employment creation programme which enables the more vulnerable to start earning again. Ameera was one of the 150 people from the displaced populations, local communities and Syrian refugees who have been supported to create their own enterprise or become apprentices in local trades. She chose beauty treatment, as it offered her an opportunity to renew her passion, but more importantly provide for her husband and (then) unborn child.

SAADYA CONFRONTS HER PAIN

Like Ameera, Saadya, 30, lived a peaceful life with her husband. With the support of her mother-in-law, she looked after her six children in Sinjar. “We were able to build a house thanks to the money my husband earned.” she said reminiscing happily about her previous life. 

However, the family home was pillaged and levelled by ISIS fighters. Her family was forced to flee with other Yezidi refugees.

“I have seen recent videos of my village, my house is completely destroyed, there is nothing left.“ Displacement is a sensitive subject for Saadyya. When asked her if she had brought anything with her from her former life, she became upset. She sighed deeply, trying to hold back tears.

“I didn't have anything left.“

After escaping ISIS, the family settled in Chasmisku camp with 30,000 other displaced men, women and children, but tragedy struck soon after. 

“One day, my husband 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.”

The psychological support given by Action Against Hunger 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. Some of my clients are old neighbours that I have not seen for years. We have become friends.”

Running a clothes store and now able to provide food for her children and herself, Saadya has taken big steps towards overcoming hunger caused by the death of her husband and provide for her children's nutrition after being displaced by ISIS's atrocities. "My situation has completely changed." she said smiling. 

These mothers have enabled their children to survive and thrive and prevented malnutrition. There are thousands of other mothers like Ameera and Saadya. In 2017, our teams helped 361,337 people like Ameera and Saadya. 

WHAT WE ARE DOING

We have continued to support internally displaced people in Iraq and Syrian refugees displaced by conflict. Our teams have been providing help in crucial areas, including food security and livelihoods, water, sanitation and hygiene interventions and raising awarnees and implementing mental health and infant care practices programmes.

 

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