The Yazidi Empowerment Project in Northern Iraq is giving persecuted families a permanent place to live, work, and learn.
Today in Iraq, thousands of large Yazidi families live in meager 19-by-13-foot tents. Susceptible to decay, disrepair, and fire, these tents are packed tight together in camps that were meant for temporary accommodation. Only it’s been eight years since ISIS forced the Yazidis from their homeland of Sinjar at the threat of death. After going days without food and water on a mountain as they fled, the camps became a place of refuge with regular food distributions. Today, however, their sewer and water systems can barely keep up with this concentrated mass of humanity.
Since 2014, Samaritan’s Purse has actively served the Yazidis in these camps, but in March 2022, we went a step further and welcomed some of them to new homes. The Yazidi Empowerment Project opened in Northern Iraq this spring to provide up to 75 Yazidi families with their own long-term housing.
Mark Dagher, program deputy director of the Yazidi Empowerment Project, said of the houses, “They’re warm. They’re dry, and they’re spacious.”
Each one contains a living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bath, complete with a heating and cooling system. Outside, each family also has additional living space in a yard and concrete slab that doubles as a parking area.
“It’s all about giving the Yazidis dignity. Yazidi people have been neglected for thousands of years until now,” said Program Director Sipan Yazdeen, referencing the suffering her people have experienced across many generations, including the latest genocidal campaign by ISIS. “I think all that Yazidis need is love.”
‘Life Will Be Better’
Families participating in the Yazidi Empowerment Project are currently experiencing that love in the form of permanent walls and a way to make a living. In addition to their homes, each family is also given two large greenhouses, ranging from 130- to 160-feet long, to grow food for their own consumption and to sell for profit.
“I’m excited that for the first time most of these families are going to be able to work with their hands and plant different produce to provide for their kids’ school fees, and buy groceries for the first time in several years,” said Matthew Nowery, Samaritan’s Purse country director for Iraq.
Dakhil*, for one, couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity for his family of six.
“Now I’m feeling very comfortable and think that life will be better,” he said.
Dakhil appreciates being so close to his work, with the greenhouses just a short walk away from his home. He likes planting the seeds of cucumbers and tomatoes, but said that he will watch how things sell in the bazaar to see if it would be more profitable to plant something else instead. Regardless, he is grateful for how quickly he can grow things in the greenhouses; he doesn’t have to wait for summer to plant.
It was also a blessing to his family to move out of their tent. “It’s very good to have my own home and have water and electricity all the time,” Dakhil said. “It’s amazing. We get to focus on our work and everything is available to us.”
In addition to these opportunities, the sense of community at the Yazidi Empowerment Project boosts their spirits. “It’s better than camps,” Dakhil said. “Those families are going and coming, but here we are one family.”
An Opportunity to Learn
Supplemental educational classes are also offered on site at the Yazidi Empowerment Project community center where residents and members of the surrounding communities can study English, computers, Kurdish literacy, and sewing—or simply have a structured place for boys and girls to play in child-friendly spaces. Currently, roughly 200 students attend.
Sheren*, 12, lives at the Yazidi Empowerment Project and participates regularly in the child friendly spaces. She enjoys the various play stations, hearing Bible stories, and most of all, interacting with her teacher.
“I am very happy with my new home,” she said. “My family is happy here. We wish we were here before.”
Zery*, 14, lives in town and comes to the Yazidi Empowerment Project community center for English classes.
“I want to learn English to be able to talk to foreign people,” she said. “I appreciate learning the alphabet, the numbers, and also the vocabulary for the future.”
With dreams of becoming a doctor in order to help patients, Zery is especially motivated in her studies.
“My family is happy here. We wish we were here before.”
Salim*, 22, recently graduated from university in accounting, but he started coming to classes at the community center because he didn’t know how to operate a computer. His teacher Khalil* is happy to have him among his students in his basic computer and business information technology classes. He instructs them in everything from how to turn on and off a computer to how to search for jobs online and use standard programs.
“I would like to thank Samaritan’s Purse for building this amazing project—for building the houses and the greenhouses and the classes for people to improve their skills,” said Khalil.
Establishing a Sense of Normalcy
Many years of effort went into making the Yazidi Empowerment Project what it is today. First there was the hurdle of finding land on which to build. Then for three years, a team worked on getting the required permissions to begin construction.
Each time when it looked like there was no other way forward, God always came through for the project.
“I could see easily God’s hand when we were working on getting approvals,” Sipan said. “I kept this verse in my head: ‘And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed’” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
When all the paperwork was finally approved, the actual building process took just under a year to complete. The team’s persistence paid off.
“One of our hopes at the Yazidi Empowerment Project is to establish normalcy and a consistency of life for them,” said Matthew Nowery. “This is a long-term program where we plan to be there for many years. We hope that this stability will culture an environment where they’re able to heal and process the traumas they’ve experienced.”
Sipan put it simply, “I want this project to be a source for sharing God’s love with Yazidis—showing them that they’re valuable, that they’re loved.”
*Name changed for security