Maryam is 8. She goes to school, plays with her friends, but her childhood has been far from normal. She’s from Iraq, and last year, her family were forced to flee their home in Mosul after the invasion of Islamic State militants. When Maryam is asked about the days when her family were on the run, all she can say is: “I cried.”
Now, Maryam and her family live in a caravan in a church yard in Erbil. The caravans arrived just a few weeks ago; before that they were living in waterproof tents. The caravan is small, and contains just two beds and a little kitchen. But it is warm, thanks to the heater on the floor. When we ask Maryam where she sleeps, she points to a place next to the heater: “Next to my mother.”
Daniel is a church leader who is taking care of the children in the camp. There are around 200 children like Maryam, from babies born in the camp up to 16-year-olds.
He remembers what the children were like when they first arrived at the camp: “They were so aggressive when they came here, they didn’t listen to me. I had bought toys for them and put them in a child-friendly space. But when I returned I saw they had broken all of the toys. They were angry about everything and they were also angry at God.”
Daniel explained how their parents were traumatised by what had happened, which also affected the children. “Children would go to their tents and see their mother crying and their father shouting.”
Daniel knows what it’s like to grow up surrounded by war. He was born in the days of the Gulf War and America invaded Iraq during his teenage years. “From when I was born until now, all I have known is war, war, war. I hope that these kids will not have to go through that same youth; I want them to have a new life, a life without any wars and without any weapons. They need peace.”
Thanks to your support, Open Doors is able to work through local partners in Iraq to train leaders like Daniel in trauma care. He now feels better able to assess the needs of the children he works with. He says: “You know, we used to just talk, talk, talk. Nobody listened to the children, even though they had all these memories and emotions stored inside of them. In the training I realised that they need to let that out. We need to listen to them.”
Open Doors also worked through local partners to help Daniel set up a child-friendly space in the camp. Maryam is one of the children Daniel works with. He shows us a wall that is decorated with glitter hearts. “Maryam made this in the child friendly space. We have many creative classes to help the children express their feelings in a different way.
“This one here is like a joker,” he says about Maryam. “She is good at every class she attends.”
Daniel is using some of the caravans to share God’s word with the children. His hard work is bearing fruit: “I was so surprised when the children told me one day that they weren’t angry at God any more. They were instead thankful that God saved them and brought them here.”
“I work very hard, but I’m not getting tired. When I see the smiles of the children or adults, then that is enough for me. Then I can feel that the grace of God is surrounding me and that makes my day.”
Although Maryam’s home in camp is very different from her home in Mosul, life goes on. Her two sisters are engaged, and will soon leave their caravan to live with their husbands. When asked if she will miss them, she says she will, but that she’s excited to have a real bed again.
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.