Northern Iraq Crisis | Action Against Hunger

Kurdistan region of Iraq: Stories from the field

Our communications officer Florian Seriex joins our psychologists as they support the displaced 

 

By Florian Seriex

Oct 10 2014

We drive through Zakho, a city in Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, zigzagging between parks and schools where thousands of displaced people are staying. As we leave the city, our car slips into a depopulated industrial area and continues through mounds of waste. Finally, we reach a construction site where a thousand people have fled, far from help.

Here, Action Against Hunger's psychologists get to work, dispersing quickly in pairs. One duo head to the second floor of an unfinished building to meet the family of Kherly and Eidou, brothers who fled the village of Rambouz with about 20 people. 

From behind concrete pillars, the brothers watch the psychologists enter and exchange pleasantries with the family. A woman in her fifties tells our team that the water shortage is causing frequent diarrhea in young children. 

Next to her, a man of about thirty nods in agreement. Others in the group stare at the ground, lost in painful memories that they have carried with them since arriving in Zakho. 

The unfinished building in which these families have fled to safety is hardly safe at all. The path to collect water or use the bathroom is an obstacle course: small barefoot children must always look out for rusty nails strewn on the ground.

In the dark of night, people are too afraid to make the trip to the bathroom, so they relieve themselves wherever they can. These unsanitary practices, combined with the sweltering heat, increase their risk of waterborne diseases.

Still, for many, this situation is safer than what they have left behind. Hundreds of thousands of families like Kherly and Eidou’s have fled escalating violence in Northern Iraq, and our psychologists are helping them cope with the stress of their new circumstances through group sessions. 

In this session, the boys’ mother speaks up. She talks about the violence she’s witnessed, the fear she’s felt, and her time traveling through the rocky mountains of Sinjar. And she talks about freedom.

Children's games, adults’ laughter

Soon, our teams begin playing games with dozens of children living in the construction site. Toys and games are important in child development for many reasons: they allow children to share and bond with one another, and to express themselves. 

Group-oriented games are also a good way for the psychologists to identify children who feel isolated and to organize small groups to support them. Children are bursting with energy as they play. 

Gradually, adults join in the fun, their smiles and laughter echoing that of the younger participants. For nearly two hours, the games offer a true escape, a return to their normal lives. This is a moment of respite, a simple moment of pleasure for parents to see their children’s happiness return.

As the games wind down, it takes a few minutes for our teams to catch their breath. Though laughter has diffused much of the stress, the harrowing stories they heard today still echo through the unfinished walls of the construction site, carrying the worries of those displaced from Northern Iraq.
 
Soon, our teams begin playing games with dozens of children living in the construction site. Toys and games are important in child development for many reasons: they allow children to share and bond with one another, and to express themselves. 

Group-oriented games are also a good way for the psychologists to identify children who feel isolated and to organize small groups to support them. Children are bursting with energy as they play. 

Gradually, adults join in the fun, their smiles and laughter echoing that of the younger participants. For nearly two hours, the games offer a true escape, a return to their normal lives. This is a moment of respite, a simple moment of pleasure for parents to see their children’s happiness return.

As the games wind down, it takes a few minutes for our teams to catch their breath. Though laughter has diffused much of the stress, the harrowing stories they heard today still echo through the unfinished walls of the construction site, carrying the worries of those displaced from Northern Iraq.

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Photo credits:  © Florian Seriex