Direct link-up with a teacher in a refugee camp inn Kurdistan, Iraq. Promoting projects for an emergency that is ongoing.
“I live in Erbil, northern Iraq, where I began a school for Kurdish children in 2010,” says Malu Villafane, who born in the Philippines. For the past few years I have been working in a local sanctuary, organising activites and projects. Last August, the shrine was turned into a refugee camp. The cities of Sinjar and Mosul, along with adjacent villages like Qaraqush, Aaramlesh, Bartalla and others, had been invaded by ISIS. The inhabitants fled leaving everything behind, and they took refuge in Kurdistan, with us. There was a very heavy atmosphere in the camp, so much pessimism, children lost and abandoned. Together with the people in charge of the centre, we started up some activities for the teenagers and children, which also involved some of my colleagues from school.”
Over the years, how have Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and other ethnic groups coexisted, such as the Kurds, Turkmen, and so on?
“They respected each other, and did everything together. I work with the Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs and other foreigners. During the crisis many Kurds hosted refugees in their own homes. The Kurdistan people don’t condone this massacre.”
When did the refugee crisis begin in Erbil? Where did they settle? What will they do over the next few months?
“The crisis which caused this forced migration already began in June 2014 and worsened at the beginning of August. The people lost everything: home, work, school. Many of them first took refuge in empty buildings, churches and on the streets. When they could, they stayed with relatives in Erbil. Many non-profit organisations, along with the Church, had to respond to the crisis without any time to prepare. They were in need of everything! Working together we were able to collect a lot of basic necessities. During that period, the temperature rose above 50°C, infernally hot. Now, during the winter it is quite cold. There are not enough tents to house the thousands of families. There are camps without food and water for extended periods of time. Yet, after a few months, the children began to smile and play, to experience something outside the camps, like visiting the swimming pool or public park. The parents see their children’s joy, and rediscover hope. They’ve begun to clean the camp, to cook and give a hand.
After living in this dramatic situation with them, my life was turned upside down. My stay in Iraq took on a very deep meaning: I was living for universal brotherhood.
But does it make sense to work for brotherhood? What pushes you to go on working in the camp?
“If I look at the situation from a human point of view, I become discouraged and feel like escaping. But, if I look at it with the eyes of a hope based on faith, I’m able to go beyond all the suffering I see. I think of the words of the Gospel: “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat; when I was sad, you comforted me. . .” These words give me strength to face the daily difficulties that I encounter in the camp. It’s not easy to describe all the suffering there is; many of them have lost hope, lost everything. This experience has expanded my heart to welcome everyone as a brother, a sister. It has enabled me to come out of my own comfortable little world and serve others. I want to live for universal brotherhood not because it solves problems, but because, one step at a time, it’s like planting a seed. Peace mostly grows from the small things we do for one another each day.”
What can we do from where we are, to be near to these people?
“I think we need to begin by confronting the topic of “disinformation.” Even though the emergency continues, hardly anyone speaks of it. Spread a culture that welcomes and listens, especially amongst the different races and religions of your cities; promote activities and projects that break down the walls. I thank all of you for your help, and may we continue to believe that Peace is possible.”