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 our delegation spent in Suleimani visiting a children's center and a women's center.
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; Yzidi, Arab, Kurd, Christian; internally displaced, refugees and local children. The center has expanded since 2001, offering education, healthcare, psycho-social services and social cohesion projects based on decreasing tension between Child's drawing 2

Child's picture

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 of an Arab group of children. Rahim expressed they have had a lot of success in melting tensions often inherited from adults. The center is completely child-centered. The children are consulted on decisions, on plans for the center's future, on what they want and need; an opportunity to be heard and valued after experiences of being silenced and hurt 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; expressions of pain and of hope, a chance to 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;  Women refugees from Syria and elsewhere, women who have been internally displaced, Kurds, Arabs, and Yzidis, gather together each day in a place that has become "the gate to happiness"; a comfortable and safe space which is so different from the chaos of experiences that drove them so far from their homes. Again and again, as the women shared, 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 own 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.