For Yazidis, a persecuted minority in Iraq, the events of August 2014 deeply marred their memories in a way that still affects their daily lives.
ISIS surrounded them on the western Nineveh Plains and forced men to go in one direction and women and children in another. For some families, it was their very last glimpses of their loved ones.
“It’s important to remember that these women have experienced what I believe is the worst the world can offer,” said Matthew Nowery, Samaritan’s Purse country director for Iraq. “They’ve been physically harmed. They’ve been ripped from their husbands and dads. They’ve been made to move from various cities—from Sinjar to Mosul to Raqqa to Aleppo. They’ve been forced to live in war after war, fight after fight. This is an ongoing trauma.”
Even for those who have been freed from the clutches of ISIS, few have homes they can return to, and the past colors every day as they try to eke out an existence in displacement camps.
Many Muslims were victims of ISIS, too.
When Mosul became the stronghold of the so-called caliphate, moderate Muslims were targeted by the extremists. Still other Muslims lost family members in the crossfire when the city was liberated.
Surprisingly, family members of ISIS also became victims during and after the war.
Family members of ISIS fighters were left to live in worn-down camps between federal Iraq and Kurdistan—an area they cannot leave. Their identification papers, which are a strict requirement for any travel in the country, were all either lost or confiscated.
But greater than this physical confinement is the shame that many carry because of the sins of their family members.
“There is a lot of trauma needs on a daily basis that make them think that they are not enough or they are not loved or accepted,” said Samer, a Samaritan’s Purse program manager in the camps.
And perhaps the most tragic victims of any group are the youngest among them.
The children living in ISIS-devastated communities no longer know how to just be kids anymore. They have simply seen too much atrocity in their short lives.
Samaritan’s Purse is addressing all of these painful realities by sponsoring trauma recovery classes for men, women, and children in multiple locations across Iraq. From Mosul Family Center on the central Nineveh Plains, to Grace Community Center near the mountains, and in the displacement camps in between, we are helping whole families learn how to deal with all they’ve seen and experienced in recent years.
Fada, a women’s teacher at Mosul Family Center, said the women of her city don’t have a culture of sharing their feelings. “They need space to talk to let out all their pain and not always suffer,” she said.
When women first come to her classes, they are very shy, but, as they begin to talk, they soon realize that others are struggling, too.
“We talk about their pain,” Fada said. “We talk about how we can renew our relation with God, and how we can be something good for our families, our kids, and our husbands.”
Through the lessons, students learn about the stages of grief, healing from guilt and shame, and extending forgiveness.
“People share that ‘Every time we come to this Center, we open our hearts and we feel rest,’” said Thair, the men’s teacher at Mosul Family Center.
Ako* was in his early teen years during the war. Separated from his parents and forced to live on the streets, he lived through the endless threats of missile and bomb strikes, firefights, and ISIS capture. He witnessed unspeakable violence.
Ako attended the Samaritan’s Purse trauma classes with Thair and learned that he had a choice. He could live in fear, anxiety, and depression, or he could be at peace. The classes taught him how to make that decision on a daily basis.
“Samaritan’s Purse really saved my life and made me a better person to overcome everything with a new mindset,” said Ako.
Ghadah*, who attended the women’s program, said it felt impossible to let go of anger and of vengeful thoughts toward the people who had wronged her.
“Before, I was a spiteful person who could never forgive or forget anything.”
She held onto all her bad feelings because during the occupation, ISIS deprived her daughter of medicine and an operation for her broken leg. So, when a neighbor with ISIS family members asked for her help, she refused.
“After having these classes with Samaritan’s Purse, Fada helped me see the bright side,” Ghadah said. “She helped me to overcome. She showed me how to find peace and how to forgive.
“Now I’m a new person. I can love people and I can go on without thinking of the past.”
Fada celebrates how Ghadah and so many other women who attend her classes are finding healing as well as gaining tools for the daily challenges of parenting and family life. Now, instead of being shy, they often message her on social media to ask if classes could be every day instead of just two to three times a week.
“My hope for these women is for them to love themselves, love each other, love God, and be a good base for their families. When we have good families and a good relation with God, we can build the city again,” Fada said. “I hope they will be sources of light for others to teach them what they [learn] here.”
Even young ones are learning to overcome the terrors of the past. Sisters Afrah*, 11, and Rahima*, 9, lost their grandmother and uncle in a bomb strike. They mostly kept to themselves after that and avoided talking about that tragic day.
That was until their mother Huda* discovered Mosul Family Center’s child-friendly space. The games and lessons in the Center’s classes helped the girls deal with their grief and start to live in the present instead of being ruled by those traumatic past events.
“There were so many changes in my daughters,” Huda said. “Now I feel they are happier and they try to mix themselves with society and make friendships with others.”
These children can now be kids again and discuss with their parents what they are learning. Since the adult classes address similar issues, they can compare principles and learn to move forward together.
Wherever these trauma recovery courses are being held, one result is consistent. As Fada put it, “We are teaching them how to fly again.”
*Names changed for security.
Samaritan’s Purse is helping meet physical and spiritual needs for impoverished families struggling to recover in the ongoing wake of ISIS violence. Our programs are opening doors to share the Good News.