story and photos by Sacha Myers, communications specialist
Ahang’s day starts before most people have rolled out of bed.
By 7am, she’s already on her way to Hassan Sham camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The camp is in the middle of nowhere. Hundreds of dome tents stand in endless identical rows, caked in yellow dust. Beyond the fences, the barren land stretches out for miles in every direction. It’s a depressing place.
But compared to the bombs and bullets of Mosul, Hassan Sham is a sanctuary.
A large group of children eagerly await Ahang and her team’s arrival. Books at the ready, they jostle for position at the gate to World Vision’s Child Friendly Learning Space.
Ahang is a social worker and a psychologist in the camp. Of all the humanitarian jobs, she has one of the toughest.
She walks from tent-to-tent in the baking sun all day, hearing horrific stories and offering support to some of the most vulnerable children who have fled the horrors of Mosul.
“Each day I follow up on cases, register new cases and identify children who need help,” Ahang says.
“At the moment, I’m managing different cases including orphans, children who were taken by ISIL, children with disabilities, gender based violence victims and girls forced into early marriage – some as young as nine.”
Although Ahang says she must remain strong to do her job, she admits some cases are utterly heartbreaking.
“I had a case of a six-year-old girl and she lost all her family – both her parents and all her siblings. She was the only survivor,” Ahang says quietly.
“She spent a whole day hugging her mother after she had been killed. She thought the family was asleep – she didn't realise they were dead. Her nine-year-old aunt, whose arm had been injured in the explosion, found her and rescued her. Then her grandparents brought her to the camp.
“When I met her she wouldn’t come out of the tent. She just wanted to be alone. But I visited her daily, talked with her and encouraged her to come to World Vision’s Child Friendly Learning Space. She improved a lot.”
Swar is another World Vision social worker in the camp. His friends think his job is risky, but Swar says there’s no place he’d rather be.
He is currently helping a little boy whose leg was shattered in an explosion. The boy had an operation in Mosul but they couldn’t mend the bone. Now he’s left with harsh metal rods sticking out of his leg.
He cannot walk and his leg is swollen to double its usual size. He’s been in the camp for a week and is clearly in pain.
As a social worker for World Vision, Swar has been working around the clock to help the boy and his family. He’s enlisted the help of four other non-government organisations to provide medicine, a walking frame and a wheelchair.
He’s also working with the camp management and various hospitals to try and organize for another operation. Swar is determined to relieve the boy’s suffering – no challenge is too great for him.
Both Ahang and Swar agree the best part of their job is closing a case.
“I was managing a case of three brothers living alone in the camp,” Swar says. “They were 17, 15 and 10. Their parents had been killed. I spent a lot of time with them because they were very vulnerable.
“They had an aunt in Erbil and they gave me her number and address. I contacted her and said they are alive but living in a very bad situation.
“I worked with the camp manager to get approval for the aunt to come to the camp and I helped reunite the brothers with their family.
“I was very excited when I saw them meet their aunty. I felt very happy and it was priceless. I cannot express how happy I was to see them reunite. That's why I love my job – because we're doing such great things.”