Photo credits: © Rob Holden
'20 years in humanitarian work. But today was different.'
The first in a two part series of blog posts about the crisis in Northern Iraq from Mike Penrose, the CEO of Action Against Hunger in France.
Aug 28 2014
On many of the visits I undertake in order to see first-hand the incredible work done by Action Against Hunger, I have seen and heard some horrendous things. For the most part, whilst they move me, I have become resistant to many of the horrors of the world. It is a necessary psychological protection in a job like mine.
Today was different however. What I heard will stay with me for a very long time.
I am currently in Dahuk, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which has recently received over half a million people displaced by the recent armed militant invasion. These people are civilians who fled to save their families from the brutality we have witnessed on television. These people come from all sectors of Iraqi culture. There are Sunni, Shia , Christian, Yazidi...
We provided a monthly food ration to over 5,000 people
Today, I attended an Action Against Hunger food distribution in a town called Zakho, about one hour from Dahuk, where Action Against Hunger provided a monthly food ration to over 5,000 people.
It was an impressive bit of logistics, with truck after truck arriving, being unloaded and food distributed to registered displaced upon presentation of their pre-allocated voucher. All in intense 45 degree heat, dust and searing sun.
During this distribution I got talking to a young Yazidi man, who I won’t name for his protection. He told me that he was a trained English teacher, who before this fighting lived with his family in Sinjar and taught in a school on the route to Erbil.
He invited me to drink tea with his family in the building site close by, where he has found shelter in a half-built house along with five other families. I met all of his family and the others living in the same place. The brothers, sisters, children, parents and grand-parents who have sheltered together where they could.
They made me the hot sweet tea that is a staple here and thanked me for the work Action Against Hunger has been doing: providing food, water and sanitation to the displaced. Then they told me their stories.
I heard the same theme again and again. That the armed groups arrived quickly, and that the army fled. That as soon as they arrived they began the killing. They shot the young men, and any person who didn’t immediately conform to their views. They led away groups of young women, many of whom were never seen again. They buried the young children of the people who were killed alive, in trenches. Those that didn’t die, fled.
The family told me of the nine days they spent in the mountains, in intense heat, without supplies, without food or water, with many children and the elderly, many of whom perished. And they told me of the hundreds of kilometres they then trekked to get to the safety of that half-built house.
The people I met were teachers, professors, engineers, village leaders, young men and women, and their children - all of whom had suffered similar hardships.
Then they all asked me the same thing: where should we go? Who will take us? Where can we start a life again? We don’t mind where, as long as it is safe. We can’t go back to where we came from, it is too dangerous, and we can’t stay here as there is nothing we can do to support ourselves.
We want to support our children and provide them with a future.
Before I left, the young man shook my hand and said thank you for what Action Against Hunger is doing, but that they all wish they didn’t have to accept our help. We are proud and educated, he said. We want to support our children and provide them with a future. Please tell me where I can go to do that, this is all I want.
As CEO of Action Against Hunger France, and with the support of our generous donors, I can ensure these people get the food and water they need to survive. But what they really need is for the international community to pull together to offer them what they deserve: a future and the chance to do something valuable, regain their life, and recapture their pride. I don’t think their request is unreasonable. Do you?
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