The Yazidi people made international headlines in August 2014 when ISIS invaded their heartland city of Sinjar. More than 200,000 people fled for their lives, a quarter of them retreating to Sinjar Mountain, which they consider a sacred site. Those who survived ISIS' weapons on the plains and climbed to safety were forced to endure temperatures pushing 120 degrees Fahrenheit with no food or water. And this went on for days!
When scant supplies of water were airdropped onto the mountain, mothers poked tiny holes in plastic bags to ration what liquid they had into their babies' mouths one droplet at a time—desperately hoping to keep them alive.
With each passing sunrise and sunset, ISIS continued to surround the base of the mountain, waiting to kill them off. Nonetheless, the Yazidis remained steadfast on their beloved mountain. They knew their way around its crevices better than their attackers. About a week into this crisis, the U.S. military provided air support to Kurdish forces on the ground who secured a path to safety for the weary, famished, and dehydrated thousands.
Raber* was among this throng together with his wife and five children. As they left the mountain, they continued their long walk to neighboring Kurdistan where he found work as a day laborer. They lived there several years before they made the journey back to their homeland, seeking to rebuild their lives. Day-laborer jobs, however, did not exist in post-ISIS Sinjar.
When Samaritan's Purse learned that Raber had been a beekeeper before he left Sinjar, they provided him with several hives, as well as training to grow his apiary skills. Raber was eager to participate in the program. “For me, it is impossible to leave bees,” he said. “I have bees in my blood.”
Raber is not alone in this passion. Sinjar is known for its honey production. Rare black honey is produced from flowers that grow only at the base of Sinjar Mountain. Yellow, green, and translucent varieties are also grown from the vegetation unique to the region.
“Taking care of these bees and doing this training, cheers you up,” Raber said. “It's not just financial income—it's a source of joy!”
Today, his honey production augments the income he gets from his fig trees as well as a flock of chickens and ducks. This agricultural diversification is important because beekeeping can be a fickle business. It's unknown from year to year how it will be, Raber said. It's possible to lose hives in the process.
Beekeepers in the Samaritan's Purse program visit each other to encourage each other’s apiary practices. Raber appreciates this support as he continues to manage the risks of beekeeping and keep the welfare of his family in his sights. “My goal is that my children will be educated in the schools and have a better future,” he said, “because I didn't get that opportunity.”
Sara's* family also found refuge on Sinjar Mountain during the ISIS invasion. Her parents and nine siblings all gathered there, with the men remaining nearer the base of the mountain to fight off ISIS while the women went further up for greater protection.
“The situation wasn't good, but morale was very high when we were defending ourselves,” she said.
Rather than flee to Kurdistan when the path opened up, Sara's family remained on the mountain. They waited a long time in her homeland to see ISIS ousted and a sense of normalcy begin to return.
One of the things that greatly helped was the Samaritan's Purse beekeeping project.
“I didn't know anything about bees,” she said, “but Samaritan's Purse supported us and taught us everything about them.”
She quickly learned how to check the 4,000 to 5,000 bees in each of her seven hives, how to remove the frames in the hive that contain the honeycomb, and how to rear and inseminate the queen bees that must be replaced every fourth year. In 2017, her first year, Sara's bees produced 46 kilograms of honey—16 kilos more than anticipated! And because the bees are disturbed by quick movements, she soon found her gentle care of them to be a calming activity.
Sara's efforts have since grown to include 10 hives, and she is active with the association that Samaritan's Purse started to support beekeepers in their apiary activities. The group works together to keep the quality of their honey high. “I was taught beekeeping and learned how to teach and take care of others, too,” she said.
When honey production is strong, it is a profitable business with one kilo (equal to one and a half pints) of black honey selling for $40 in Sinjar. If she can transport her product the three hours to Erbil, each kilo will yield $50 to $60 in the markets there. Sarah explained that it is a precious commodity for good reason: “The nature of Sinjar, the feeling of the bees is special—the flowers you find here you can't find in other areas of Iraq.”
Please pray for Raber, Sara, and the more than 200 other beekeepers who have received hives and supplies from Samaritan's Purse in Jesus' Name. Ask that their efforts will not only provide for their individual families, but also restore a sense of collective hope as Yazidis seek to rebuild from the crises of the past.
*Name changed for security