IRAQI KURDISTAN: Finding community and empowerment after ISIS

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CPTnet
6 June 2016
IRAQI KURDISTAN: Finding community and
empowerment after ISIS

This blog post was written by one of the delegates who
preferred not to attach their name to a blog, but wanted to reflect and share
about the day the joint CPT/ Presbyterian Peace Fellowship delegation spent in
Suleimani visiting a children’s center and a women’s center.  It has been adapted for CPTnet.  The original is available on the Presbyterian
Peace Fellowship blog.
 

A visit with Rahim Amin Hassan of the
“STEP” Program (Seeking To Equip People).
 

STEP began in 2001 with a drop-in-center for young children
who were working in the market and expanded to include children who have fled
violence.  The children come from various backgrounds; Yazidi/Ezidi, Arab,
Kurd, Christian, internally displaced people, refugees and local children. The
center has expanded since 2001, offering education, healthcare, psychosocial
services and social cohesion projects based on decreasing tension between
different groups.  One such project, Rahim explained, was a gardening
project where each group of children plants a garden box, and then a different
group of children has to tend the garden plot. For instance, a Kurdish group of
children might tend the box for an Arab group of children. Rahim said they have
had a lot of success in melting tensions often inherited from adults.

The center is completely child-centered.  Adults who run the center consult the children
on decisions, on plans for the center’s future, on what they want and need—giving
them an opportunity to be heard and valued after experiences of silencing and
pain by war and violence. Children draw pictures of life before ISIS, life
during ISIS, what life is like now, and what they want life to look like in the
future.  They have a chance to express
their pain and hope, share their inner lives, and be recognized and
accompanied. 

The afternoon brought a visit to Baynjan Women’s
Center—
a safe haven for women of many ages, and many different cultural
backgrounds: refugees from Syria and elsewhere, women who have been internally
displaced, Kurds, Arabs, and Yazidi/Ezidis, gather together each day in a place
that has become “the gate to happiness”; a comfortable and safe space
radically different from the chaos that drove them so far from their homes.
Again and again, as the women talked, they expressed gratitude for a space
where they could “be themselves,” “be comfortable,”
“be safe,” “experience family, after I was separated from my
own.” The women put together a drama that they have shared in refugee and
IDP (internally displaced people) camps and that they shared on International
Women’s Day. The drama showed a young women’s struggle to achieve her goals in
the midst of an arranged marriage. The woman comes into her own power as the
drama continues. The theater expresses the depth of issues that women face on a
daily basis in a way that goes far beyond just words. The women find community
together, challenge systems, work for human rights and demonstrate peacemaking
every day.

Wouldn’t you love to meet people like the ones working at STEP and Baynjan Women’s Center?  Check out our delegation schedule!

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