I first travelled to Iraq in 2001. It was my first trip with War Child and it was life changing. My return to the country earlier this month was equally phenomenal. It never ceases to amaze me how much capacity for courage and resilience the people have.
We visited Iraqi Kurdistan, just weeks before the referendum on independence that threatens to provoke sanctions from Baghdad and Turkey. The whole of Iraq has been subject to rolling conflicts since the fall of Saddam, most recently suffering under the brutality of ISIS. I saw shelled neighborhoods and displacement camps housing the mainly women and children who had fled the war. I met with women and families who have had everything taken from them – homes, sons, husbands, their children’s sense of safety and wellbeing. Everything.
I saw how the women in War Child’s programs are being empowered to rebuild their lives. Through skills training and micro-loans, they will be able to return to their communities and support themselves and their families. I saw how War Child’s schooling was transforming the lives of kids who had previously been stuck in a kind of holding pattern in the camps.
This trip was invigorating for me because I witnessed humanitarianism at its best. The staff at War Child’s office in Erbil – the capital city – are extraordinary. The world needs more great citizens like these, who are willing to stand up for their communities and use their skills for the greater good of society. Seeing the programs being run by Iraqis for Iraqis left me so hopeful for their future.
There was one woman I remember who was so filled with joy. She was looking at her phone and showing photos to her friends so I went to look. To my surprise, she was showing all sorts of beautiful cake creations. I said to her are those yours? She nodded. I was beyond impressed. She was a world-class baker! It was humbling for me to see her coming to this meeting and looking to get help with a fresh start, seeing how established she was in her mastery of cake making. Nonetheless she was self-assured and so happy. She was grateful for the opportunity and so proud of her creations and her talent! I wanted a photo of her holding up the phone with her photos. It was difficult to decide which cake to pick, because they were all so, so beautiful.
This trip changed me. I saw with my own eyes that it matters more than ever to take care of each other, to learn about the plights of others – their socio-political situations and hopes for a better life. Because we are one planet and one people. We cannot turn our eyes from the future of the world. Each and every child is a force for that future.
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