The moment that she walked though our blue gate she tumbled into my arms and we just stood there. Hugging. A long hug with no need for words. We were surrounded by several hundred kids who watched, frozen in silence. Then she began to weep. And she wept, for her murdered family, for her captivity, for her childhood lost, for the baby she had, for the baby that was miscarried, for the baby aborted, she wept.A young girl of 14 years old alone and afraid, just arrived in Northern Iraq from the hell hole of Baghouz, Syria. In the few months since that day, we have continued to hug, and to weep. Tears of pain, of mourning, and of healing. Sometimes tears just because the tears need to come out.There have been days when she did not show up at The Hope Centre, she was plagued by so many infections given to her in her captivity. Doctor after Doctor has treated her in the past three months, she does not give up, she takes step after step, does all that she can to rebuild a destroyed life.
She joined us for a picnic but her mood was heavy, her thoughts elsewhere, her face sad. We sat together in our usual comfortable silence. From time to time she would take my hand or I would stroke her long hair.
Then she began to speak to me, “I do not like my name. It reminds me of my captors. It reminds me of ISIS. I need a new name, will you give me a new name?” My heart pounded with the weight of responsibility. Of life destiny that is encompassed in a name.
My response was simple as only it could be. “I will think and I will pray and we will wait.“
The day was hot, food, music, dancing and then it came...JOY. Delight, great pleasure, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, exhilaration, exuberance, rapture, radiance. Joy...was she ready for this.
The solemnity of the moment reminded me of the wrestle that Jacob had with the Angel at Peniel. Those hours of creative destiny, where he walked away as the sun rose, limping but with a name that has shaped not just his, but many destinies over thousands of years.
And thus, the girl who came from Isis became Joy, a broken young girl who made a choice for life that will impact her generations.
Young S spent close to five years in the army of the black flag was also discovered in the cavernous tunnels of Baghouz when escaping for his life. He was returned to Shariya camp to discover that he was the sole survivor of his immediate family, and life now would be in a tent with his uncle.
He demanded that his uncle purchase weapons, he gave him a shopping list of pistols and rifles. That’s all he had known. There was no playground or playtime or play therapy with the black flag people.
He agreed to walk through our blue gate, not because he wanted to, only because his friends from his military regiment in Syria were hanging out with us, and he thought they could lead him to weapons.
He thought wrong. He founds his friends playing, creating cities out of Lego, playing volleyball until they dropped to the floor with exhaustion. He found his friends eating food, as much as they wanted, as often as they needed. He discovered computers, and a fridge full of ice cream. He discovered a keyboard with headphones where he could imagine himself to be the next rising star.
One day, after about two months, his uncle comes to us with a broad smile. “S does not ask for weapons now. He has forgotten about weapons. He is happy with you, he loves computers and he loves camera class. Thank you.“
D. sat like a broken bird, hunched down in a squatting position his right arm wrapped around his head protecting it. Much of his head is bald, due to repeated beatings with his captor’s rifle. His anger was tangible. He shouted at us, calling us infidels. He refused to eat our food, food cooked, touched, handled by infidel Yezidis.
He would not look at us, he sat with his back to us. Like a sculpture positioned the wrong way, totally unshiftable. After a month when he finally spoke, it was two words, he shouted “Allahu Akbar.“ We took no notice and invited him to play. He spat in contempt and left shutting the blue gate behind him.
If we dared to approach him, he would run. His sitting position was always the same, three metres to the left of our blue gate. He would not accept clothes from us, he continued to wear the gear of the black flag people.
We waited and waited and then came the first sign of breaking into this wounded but oh so strong heart, his sitting position turned about 40% in our direction, the direction of the volleyball court where his friends were bouncing a ball around.
A week later another turn towards us, but we still could not approach him. Then came a picnic. We decided to pick him up from his tent, no minibus that could trigger flashbacks. Special delivery. He ran, we ran after him. We gave up, but we waited and waited and then he returned. He sat in the front seat with half of his body hanging out of the window, taut and tense, ready to jump out at any given moment.
As soon as our vehicle stopped, he jumped and ran to a rock near his friends and sat with his back to us. When lunch, grilled chicken, rice, salad, soup, watermelon was served, he and his friends, moved as a well-oiled unit to a place separate from the main group and ate together. He ate.
Two weeks later, we invited him out again. He went in the minibus. He exchanged his rock for a red plastic chair with one leg dangling over the side. That precious moment for which we had longed for and waited.
Four months have now passed. He looks at us, sometimes says hello, sometimes doesn’t. He will walk up to us, sometimes come close, sometimes turn away. But as is his sitting position shifting, so is his inner compass turning.
And this dear friends is the key to these child soldiers. Their inner compass. It exists. It has not been stolen from them. It has not been destroyed. It simply needs recalibrating, it needs a place of tranquillity and safety where it can adjust itself when it is ready.
See when these youth, teens and women come to us, they are at the place of not knowing good from evil, right from wrong, black from white. They have been so brainwashed that they have no expectation of honor, of love, of dignity of respect. These are unknown qualities. As far as they are concerned, they are a form of entrapment. They have been dehumanised. They had their rights stripped from them as children, as human beings. Trust has been destroyed. Destruction can happen in a minute, rebuilding takes time and great care and caution.
We have a wonderful program which is part of the recalibration of the compass. It’s a sponsorship programme called “Hopefully, Yours” because these kids need someone to help them out for a while. They need tangible love, they need clothes, food, sometimes medicine, they need the ability to go to the camp store and buy an ice cream, to purchase a t-shirt, something for themselves.
Because these kids have nothing and no one, because they have been abused and need stability in order for their compass to return to due north, we ask for a 12 month commitment of $60 per month, which goes to them in entirety (apart from bank charges and exchange fees). This can be set up on our website under “recurring monthly donation”. This can be done here.