Blog and photos by Sacha Myers, Communications Specialist, World Vision International, Kurdistan Region of Iraq
Suham tries desperately to stem the tears flowing down her son’s small cheeks. She makes quiet, reassuring sounds. But Mahmood continues to sob.
I try to tell myself it’s normal behaviour for a five-year-old.
But Mahmood’s sobs go far deeper than just shyness. And as I watch his little body shudder and turn against the wall to hide his face, I wonder if he’ll ever recover from what he’s seen.
A lifeless city
Mahmood is from Hawija, a city in northern Iraq under the control of ISIL. People who have managed to escape tell me it is now a city devoid of life.
Food is scarce. People are starving. Bodies litter the streets.
“When we were escaping, we saw a lot of bodies, people who had been killed by ISIL,” Suham tells me. “The bombing started and my children began to scream, especially Mahmood. I put my hands on their mouths to try and keep them quiet because I was worried ISIL would hear us.
“Mahmood’s situation is so bad. Every time he hears a plane he screams. Whenever he sees a man he gets scared.”
Mahmood and his family now live in a camp close to the city of Kirkuk. Enclosed by a tall barbed wire fence, hundreds of tents stand side-by-side under the blistering sun. I cannot imagine living here for a day, let alone a month or a year. But Suham says anything is better than ISIL.
The boy he used to be
Suham’s main concern now is providing for her children and caring for Mahmood, who spends his days alone in their tent. Not even a ball can tempt him outside to play.
But after spending two hours with Mahmood, I see a glimmer of hope.
He’s currently receiving support at a World Vision clinic in the camp. I watched as he talked and played with Mohammed, a World Vision psychologist. Mohammed says he’s trying to show Mahmood there is life again and that he’s safe. The first step on the road to recovery.
When I say goodbye to Mahmood, he smiles and gives me a small wave. I see the boy he used to be – and hopefully will be again someday soon.
Now is not the time to leave
As I drive away from the camp, my mind turns to all the children still trapped in Hawija.
The city is due to be retaken in the coming weeks. I think about the new wave of children who will flood into the camps – doubtless, some speechless and numb with what they have witnessed.
It’s a reminder that the crisis is far from over in Iraq. Funding will be needed more than ever in the coming months to repair the damage wrought by years of catastrophic conflict.
If Iraq’s children are to have any hope of recovery, donors and the international community cannot forsake them now.