I recently returned from Iraq, and what an experience it was. I wish I had the gifts of a poet or great orator to be able to verbalize my thoughts in a way that would bring alive the sights, sounds, smells and emotions of what I experienced. I am filled with deep sadness and lasting hope all at the same time.
Although I watch the world news regularly, nothing could have prepared me to witness the devastation that ISIS has caused: not just of homes, buildings, and towns, but devastation of lives, families, and of the innocence of children. Imagine neighbors of three religions living and working side by side peacefully, their kids going to school together. Normal day-to-day life. Then one day ISIS storms into town, and suddenly, everything is turned upside-down. Men are killed, children are captured, young girls are sold into slavery. Fear is the new normal. Escape is the only hope.
Fast forward. Those who were lucky enough to escape with their lives are now living in tents. They cannot return home, because their towns are destroyed. There are not enough schools for the children. There is barely enough to eat. When they wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares of what they witnessed, they are lying on floor mats in one-room tents, inches from their remaining family members, with no heat, air conditioning, or any of the comforts of their former homes. Their ongoing misery is both physical and emotional.
Yet in the midst of this tragic picture, I was also filled with a great sense hope. The best of humanity was also on display as strangers from other countries were doing what they can to help. In Erbil, I visited an informal camp where one Dutch woman helped 16 families living on the grounds of an abandoned hotel construction site. I saw children back in school in a donated school tent – with playground equipment and educational supplies provided by TentED!
Another successful project I encountered was run by Sinjar Foundation for Human Development in Shariya Camp near the city of Dohuk. Sinjar Foundation, an NGO dedicated to building “an effective civil society” through investments in education and vocational training for refugees in the region, was running a Child Friendly Space program that provided over 100 children the opportunity to return to a school environment and take classes in art, music, reading, writing, play activities, and English. More than providing education, this program delivers a sense of normalcy and hope to children who have been through so much.
Unfortunately, funding for the Child Friendly Space project has run out. Thankfully, TentED has agreed to partner with Sinjar Foundation and support this wonderful educational program. Our goal is to raise $13,800. The funds will provide 150 displaced children with 3 months of quality education programming.