Today was my third day in Kurdistan, after arriving Saturday afternoon. I was picked up by two Kiwis, a Brit and an American, all coming from Cypress to come pray in Kurdistan. They delivered me to the home of Tim and Sarah Buxton, who work for World Orphans, the organization we are here to work with. The Buxtons have been here for a year and a half with their teammates who have been in this area for five years. The Buxtons landed in Kurdistan (northern Iraq) on the very day that ISIS took the city of Mosul, so their intention to come do development work and community building quickly became a relief effort to help those displaced by ISIS.
This building, which they call The Refuge, was their original intended mission: a community center where people could come for classes, weddings, etc. Now it holds a kind of day school for children from their five refugee camps. (More on the school tomorrow.) We got a tour of this building and saw the graveled part of the compound where this group hosted their very first group of refugees--twenty Shabak Kurds from Mosul who had been squatting in some houses under construction, but were being evicted by the builder. The mayor of Soran, a Muslim man who has been supporting the work, asked them to provide a place for these twenty families to put up their UN tents. In six days, Tim and his colleagues leveled the hilly plot, removing over 100 truckloads of dirt and bringing in 200 truckloads of rock, as well as built a bath house and installed water tanks. Now these families are in semi-permanent housing in the first camp that we visited (the mostly recently completed).
We had been told that these communities are very protective of their women, but that the women would be very eager to see the women on our team. Sure enough, when we walked into the camp where the Shabak Kurds are living now, many women came to peek out their doors at us, averting their eyes from the men and staring openly and smiling at us women. I was beckoned in by a teenage girl holding a 6-8 month old baby and presented to her mother (the baby's mother) and her grandmother. Her 10 or 11-year-old brother joined us also. While I played with the baby and drank tea with the grandmother, the girl and her brother played with my camera. There were no shared languages among us, but I showed them photos of my family and we tried to communicate with one another. I'm going to see about getting some of these photos printed in town to take back to the family later in the week. Later I learned that this baby is likely the one who was born while the families were living in the compound at The Refuge.
Given my interests in maternal health, naturally I gravitated toward the smallest babies I could find, and in the next camp we visited, one that hosted about a dozen Yezidi families, I met this woman and her little nephew. A Kurdish Christian from Oregon who is traveling on our team was nearby, and helped me ask a few preliminary questions. She explained that their family, including the baby's mother, ran from Sinjar Mountain about 18 months ago when this guy was only 20 days old. Unlike the Shabak Kurds, who had a couple of days' notice to prepare to run, as well as some vehicles to escape in, the Yezidi had only moments to grab their children and run. This is evident even between these two homes that I visited. The Shabak women had rugs, blankets, tea cups, even a television. The woman above, who lives with her teen-aged daughter and other family members, had almost nothing but some cooking supplies and some blankets which they had obtained along the past year and a half they've been fleeing. They have been in this cement block, three room home constructed by World Orphans and its partners, for only the past four months. Prior to that they slept anywhere they could find a roof overhead. Now the winter is coming to these mountains (it's already quite cold, and it's only going to get colder still--snow is on the way in the next month or so) and they have nothing to protect them from the cold cement floor.
This is an aerial view of another camp that we visited, where the nearly 40 families had been living in UN tents, which were ripped to bits in a wind storm six weeks ago. The World Orphans team mobilized funds to build homes for as many as they could. This camp has an older style, with separate bath houses, as opposed to the ones that the women above live in, which are self-contained (each has a bathroom and a kitchen). At this camp we had tea with several Yezidi elders (if you look closely you can see them smoking outside, wearing the traditional red and white headscarf). The World Orphans Project Coordinator, a Muslim Kurd, is very interested in the work of Mama Maisha and the tools I brought, and he wants me to teach every woman in every camp, so he started by asking these Yezidi elders if I could be allowed to teach their women, and they agreed! It's a great first step, which needs to be followed by getting a great female translator who can speak the Yezidi dialect. Not a super easy task, so prayers are appreciated on that front.
This is the fourth camp, which we didn't get to visit today, although we saw it from the top of the soccer stadium. As you can see, these families are still in tents, and with the snow coming, it's a desperate push to raise funds to get them into the permanent housing. We'll find out later this week, when Tim's colleague returns with still more visitors, how much money is needed to finish moving all these families into the cement block homes.
Tomorrow we will go to The Refuge to see the kids from the camps in their "school" and we will also visit one last camp. I'm feeling really great about this trip, although naturally consumed with concern for the families I'm meeting. I have some cash with me (from the excess you all donated) which I hope to use to bless one or two families in a small way. Right now I'm thinking about buying a carpet or two, but we'll see how things develop.
If you feel moved to help these families, the best way to do that is to go sponsor a family. This photo on the left is the Shabak Kurd family who shared tea with me, and the family on the right is the mother who ran with her tiny baby and other children. Click on their photos to be taken to the site for sponsorship for this family. World Orphans, like Lahash, spends the vast majority of their money on the ground, which I have seen first hand, and when all these families are sponsored, it will allow the team to offer medical services, better education, needed furnishings and other important things. It costs about $150 a month to sponsor a family, or you can contribute, along with others, a $30 per month share in the family's support.
Thanks to all for prayers for good travels and safety, and please continue to pray for Fred and the kids at home and for continued strength in body, mind and spirit for me.