Normal life returns in the Plains

28 January 2021, 19:05

Life in the Nineveh Plains, one of the Iraqi regions which was hardest hit by Daesh, is gradually returning to normal. We had to close our centres for a few months, but continued our activities online as much as possible. Now that infection rates are relatively stable we can start our initiatives again, launch some new ones and even celebrate a big surprise.

Whenever this happens – wherever we are working – it is always wonderful to see. When it happens in a little village between Erbil and Mosul, in an area which was occupied by Daesh for a long time, then it is a real reason for celebration. The surprise in question was the recent inauguration of our new “Peace Workshop” in Tobzawa. This is a Youth Centre where the local teenagers and young adults are free to really express themselves, participate in sport and other recreational activities and take part in vocational training courses. Some local ‘famous faces’ joined in the centre’s grand opening.

The celebrations included speeches, music, theatre performances and even a karate display, all thanks to the hard work of lots of local volunteers.

We plan to open more “Workshops”, wherever they are most needed, to bring serenity and peace where until recently it really didn’t seem possible.

We consider the Nineveh Plains to be a very important area. Here, over many years, we have renovated and equipped schools and Youth Centres which were damaged during the long years of Daesh’s occupation. Having destroyed everything, Daesh began provoking conflict between communities and ethnicities, encouraging hatred and resentment and destroying the social fabric.

Our “Peace Workshops” welcome Sunnis, Ezadas, Shi’ites, Christians and people from all communities, who work and spend leisure time together, side by side. And that’s how life was for a long time. Until Covid enforced social distancing and isolation, and wiped out the tiny glimmer of hope for a normal life for many people. But while older people seem to be most at risk of the pandemic’s medical impact, it is children and adolescents who are most vulnerable to the psychological impact: forced to isolate, in many cases they cannot even go to school or continue with sports, cultural or leisure past-times.

But people are facing challenges everywhere, not just in Iraq and Syria. But it is clear that the impact of the pandemic is not the same all over the world. Growing up in Mosul, Daesh’s stronghold decimated by years of war, violence and terror, is very different to growing up in New York or Berlin. And that is why we are delighted that our various initiatives for young people can start again. We are also launching some new courses, sports and cultural initiatives in our centres, all of which fully respect the regulations for the prevention of Covid-19 transmission. Volleyball, table foosball, skateboarding, courses in craftwork and knitting, as well as special organised visits to remind them of their own incredible cultural heritage, with guided visits to sites like the Imam Reza’s Shi’ite Sanctuary, where the young adults were welcomed by the religious leader himself who reminded them of the importance their religion gives to peace-building and inter-faith dialogue. They were shown around the whole site, and saw for themselves the damage left by the war. Another cultural trip is planned to the Nimrud Sanctuary.

Another interesting development is the recent introduction of more vocational courses, in collaboration with the Northern Technical University of Mosul; courses now include photography, hair-dressing, tailoring and smartphone repairs.

Another sector which is slowly starting up again is academic support for male and female students. Tutoring services in maths, English and science are now available to students in the Nineveh Plains who risked falling behind after missing so much school….

Our centres are working to provide the tools young people need to get back on track. We are even building a modest library – there are not many books yet but we are planning to expand day by day. There’s no rush, just plenty of the love and courage this area deserves, after so much suffering. One day the pandemic will end. And face masks, hand gel and social distancing will be just a distant memory. There will still be, however, all that horrible inequality between nations. We are working to overcome that, one day at a time, in the field. Together. Starting in the Nineveh Plains.

With a project funded by Malteser International.