A Chance to Dream Again

Samaritan’s Purse offers hope and opportunity to displaced Yazidis in northern Iraq.

A Desperate Situation

In the desert of northern Iraq, there is a haven for displaced families known as the Grace Community Centre. Samaritan’s Purse established this place to show God’s love to displaced families by providing tangible care and support. From medical care to playgrounds, the Centre takes a holistic approach— offering physical, emotional, and spiritual care.

Memories of ISIS’ invasion still haunt many refugees who were forcibly displaced from their hometown of Sinjar.

Memories of ISIS’ invasion still haunt many refugees who were forcibly displaced from their hometown of Sinjar.

For five years, Khanke Camp has been home to some 30,000 displaced Yazidis

“Grace Community Centre is a place where people get hope for the future. These Yazidi families have been out in the tents for almost five years now,” said Geza Gergely, who manages the Centre for Samaritan’s Purse. “They need hope. They need support. They need a place where they can gather as a community and get hope for the future and development for themselves.”

For children under 5 years old, living in a refugee camp is all they have ever known.

For children under 5 years old, living in a refugee camp is all they have ever known.

“We try to help families who are in a very desperate situation,” Geza said.

The Centre lies adjacent to one of the largest refugee camps in the country—Khanke Camp, which is home to some 30,000 internally displaced Yazidis. These families fled Sinjar in 2014 when ISIS first invaded their mountain town.

Refugees tell harrowing stories of their escape from Sinjar when ISIS invaded in 2014. Many still have nightmares and fear ever returning to their hometown.

Refugees can come and go from the camp into nearby communities as they please, but they choose not to return to Sinjar because there is nothing left to go home to. ISIS destroyed their community, and they fear that the same thing could happen again.

Samaritan’s Purse sends health promotion teams into the camp to teach families about proper hygiene methods like brushing your teeth.

Samaritan’s Purse sends health promotion teams into the camp to teach families about proper hygiene methods like brushing your teeth.

With an on-site medical clinic and thirteen different programmes, each member of a family can find support at the Centre.

“We try to help families who are in a very desperate situation,” Geza said.

The Grace Community Centre takes a holistic approach—addressing families physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Raising a Family in a Refugee Camp

Fewer than 20 percent of the people in Khanke Camp have a way to earn an income. Meyan,* pregnant with her third child and already struggling to provide for her 2-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son, said life is very difficult for her family. While her husband tries to find work in the surrounding area, she raises her children inside the camp—constantly worrying that she will fail them as a mother. She sacrifices her own food to buy milk for her children.

Meyan, who participated in the Centre’s mother-to-mother class, plays with her 2-year-old daughter.

Meyan benefited from the mother-to-mother class at the Grace Community Centre where she learned how to better care for her children including proper breastfeeding methods. She said, “What they taught us in the centre was totally different than what I knew. I knew the wrong way, but they taught me the right way.”

In the mother-to-mother class, mums learn how to properly care for their children including adequate nutrition.

Every programme—from computer classes to carpentry classes—has a waitlist. Each class is designed to either improve their quality of life, provide a marketable skill, or bring joy to children in the camps. Approximately 300 individuals graduate from programmes at the centre each month.

Children and teens participate in a photography class at the Centre.

Children and teens participate in a photography class at the Centre.

From construction to photography classes, the Grace Community Centre offers unique opportunities for every age group.

Computer classes provide graduates with marketable skills such as proficiency in Excel and other computer applications.

Literacy, computer, and language classes make students more competitive applicants in the marketplace while livelihood training, such as sewing and carpentry, gives students the opportunity to produce products to sell in the market or benefit their own family.

This spring, the Centre is launching a new gardening class. Upon graduation, students will receive starter kits to grow fresh vegetables just outside their tents.

Sewing classes help restore women’s dignity by providing them with a way to support their families.

Learning to Dream Again

The sewing class curriculum extends far beyond how to draw patterns and sew clothes by also training women how to start, manage, market, and maintain a business. Upon graduation, women are given enough fabric to kickstart their business.

“I am trying to teach them how to dream,” Sazan said.

Jela said that this sewing course changed her life by giving her a sense of purpose.

Sazan, the Centre’s sewing teacher, has continually been impressed by her adult student’s dedication and quality of work. Even on their days off, she finds them inside the sewing room—diligently sewing clothes and working together. The programme is sustainable, and women are providing for their families by selling their creations in the local market.

Graduates of the class learn more than just sewing fabrics and cutting out patterns. They also learn how to open their own business and work together as a team.

Even with this remarkable success rate, the goal of each class is actually much deeper than the education itself. Through the sewing class, students have a renewed sense of purpose, their dignity is restored, and they find joy in their work. Most importantly, they are reminded that God loves them.

Educational classes are an important component of the Centre. Students are often hungry to learn more, asking questions and diligently studying the material.

“I am trying to teach them how to dream,” Sazan said. “I want them to know that they can expand their dream. They are not limited—even living in a tent. I want them to pursue their dreams.”

Every class at the Centre is a way to demonstrate God’s love to Yazidi families.

One of Sazan’s students, Jela, said, “I am very happy because they respect us. This has changed me. I am happy to work here, be here, and to spend my time here.”

The carpentry class teacher works alongside his students as he teaches them how to build a dresser.

Another programme at the Centre trains men to build pieces of furniture. Each month more than a dozen men participate in the carpentry class, learning how to build furniture such as a bed and dresser. Students often keep their first creations for their family. Living in tents, this is often the first piece of furniture they have owned since fleeing Sinjar. This simple item helps their lives feel a little a bit more normal. Oftentimes, students go on to sell furniture in the local market or earn carpentry jobs with their new skillset.

Bani learns how to build a bed and dresser for his family in the Centre’s construction class.

Bani learns how to build a bed and dresser for his family in the Centre’s construction class.

“The class opens doors for me to find a job for the future. I am learning a skill and adding to my experience.”

Bani, a student in the carpentry class, said the programme changed his life. “The class opens doors for me to find a job for the future. I am learning a skill and adding to my experience,” Bani said. “Samaritan’s Purse had a great impact on my life.”

Calling a tent home in a refugee camp home has become normal life for these three girls.

Other classes at the Centre are designed specifically with children in mind, providing a safe space for children to play, laugh, and grow. The playground in the courtyard is the only one accessible to thousands of children living in the camp, and it is always packed with kids just being kids. There are also sports programmes and children’s classes offered weekly at the Centre.

At the Centre, kids have a chance to play, laugh, and learn together.

A grandmother bakes homemade pita bread for her family just outside their tent.

The Centre’s on-site medical clinic is open to anyone in Khanke Camp. Samaritan’s Purse doctors and nurses care for approximately 1,000 patients each month. Everything is provided free of charge from consultations to prescriptions.

“This clinic is very important. They really need medicine, and they really need our help,” said the medical clinic’s director.

“This clinic is very important. They really need medicine, and they really need our help,” said the medical clinic’s director.

Approximately 50 patients pass through the Centre’s medical clinic each day receiving treatment and prescriptions free of charge.

The Centre is filled with hope. Inside these walls, families have a chance to start fresh. They can dream again. New programmes are regularly developed—with a new garden class launching this spring— to help Iraqi families thrive even in the middle of a bleak situation.

oy radiates from students at the Grace Community Centre. They begin to hope and dream again as they learn new skills.

Ultimately, the Grace Community Centre is about so much more than livelihood classes, English lessons, and medical care—it is a unique way to show God’s love to hurting families in northern Iraq.

 

Footnotes: *Meyan and all names following have been changed for security reasons.

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