The Yezidi community from Sinjar are not healthy. That is an understatement if ever there was. They are sick. Sick from detrimental nutritional and dietary habits, (if your teaspoon does not stand upright in the chai glass, there is not enough sugar), but also from generational years of corporate trauma, brought to its apex in 2014, and ongoing. The community has become sick from life.
Some of the older women who come to our medical clinic tell us that they walked three months from Sinjar to Shariya camp and their legs can not walk any more. Some of the men puff on incessant cigarettes, they have sons and daughters still unaccounted for somewhere in Syria or beyond, it is not their time for a detox and dietary adjustment. Their hearts and souls are torn apart, they need an infusion of life.
Some call us, saying “I need help, I am broken, please come to my tent. I can not come." We have incorporated tent visits, twice a week for those who are broken into our Hope Clinic schedule. Nurse Jazia with Evan visits the sick every Sunday, and Nurse Salah again with Evan closes out the week every Thursday afternoon.
Both Jazia and Salah live in the camp, Evan, our photography teacher lives in a nearby Yezidi village, where he was born and raised. Going into the camp always affects him deeply.
“Open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and poor in your land.”
Deuteronomy 15: 11
Evan. Photography teacher and Cameraman.
“I am gradually becoming accustomed to visiting the sick in the camp. I volunteered to go with our Nurses, not because I am a photographer but because I genuinely desired to visit regularly and connect with people. I admit that it is hard for me, and there have been times, particularly in the beginning when I somewhat hid behind my camera lens because I was uncomfortable with the fact that I live in a house, and they do not, that my family can go to doctors, and they can not. This is so hard for me especially as we are visiting those who are sick and can't get out due to health reasons. It does affect me emotionally; it takes me a while to regroup after the visits, but I know that it is something that I must do and desire to do. Everyone tells us that we are the only organization which offers medical aid and support inside the tents.
Take for example Dakhil Ido whose legs are paralyzed, “no one other than SOHF has ever come to visit me and check on my needs. I can't get to the hospital or doctor, so I am grateful that you come to me.”
Tent life is hard, after eight years tents are torn and worn out, with no money to fix or repair. The heat is awful, and the winters are equally harsh. From what I am seeing, most people over 30 years old are sick, suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney or gall bladder stones. We were told by one tent lady, that since the invasion of ISIS and displacement from Shingal that 95% of the over thirties are sick with some form of chronic disease.
Some of the people that we visit tell us that since the fire last June, they don't sleep at night, they nap during day hours because they are afraid of another fire. They are on constant alert.
Halima Qolu told us “We are living in hell." I asked her what she meant. Her reply was that they are terrified for their lives, with the constant possibility of fire. “To return to Shingal is not safe, there is no security but in the tent we live under the shadow of death.” I know that we can not offer these people a cure to their ailments, but we can give them check ups, and we can show them that they are not alone and that we care for them. We can and we must be there for them.
Take for example, Khonafi Khalaf who is seventy years old. Nurse Jazia takes her blood pressure but Khonafi chain smokes. I asked her why she doesn't stop smoking. as she knows they are bad for her. “I smoke because of ISIS, because I am alone and all my children are still in ISIS. Eight years with no information, nothing, you would smoke too.” I had nothing to say, I could not imagine her stress and anxiety.”
Evan. Photography teacher and Cameraman.
“Whoever is kind to the poor, lends to the Lord. He will reward them for what they have done.” Proverbs 19:17
“It is so important to visit the sick inside the camp. If they do not come to our clinic that indicates that they are really sick and can not come. They need help.
During the course of time as we have increased our tent home visits, people have come to trust us, and close relationships have been built, which is important especially for sick people who often are or feel alone and abandoned. Their hope has kind of run out, so we also bring them a dose of hope every week.
I speak as a nurse when I say that the general medical condition in the camp is not good. The medical needs are not being met, as there are no medical personnel on the ground with the ability to serve the needs. The sanitation and corporate hygiene is not good, public health services must improve, too many people are using the same shower rooms and sanitary facilities which are broken and long outdated.
When there is the outbreak of a new disease, such as the Covid 19 pandemic or recent cholera scare, there is neither medical infrastructure or adequate information. We do our best, but we do not reach every sick person in the camp. Our tent visits are practical and we ensure that we give full and correct medical and nutritional information to everyone we visit. We leave them with knowledge, in the hope that they will adopt at least some of our suggestions.
There is an old lady whom we visit every week, her name is Sarah, she was taken into the captivity of ISIS and fortunately was rescued. She is a beautiful lady, she lacks information to help her reduce her blood pressure which is way too high. She listened so attentively to my medical and dietary recommendations, when we left she said "Now I feel beautiful and full of joy."
Another regular patient is Khan Meshko who is 70 years old. She has one kidney, and has had a stroke, her husband also is sick. She usually cries when we come but it is from relief that someone has come to visit and is giving her attention.
Jalal Elias, 38 years old is a new patient. He recently had surgery for colon cancer and is in the middle of chemotherapy but has run out of money to pay for his treatment. He has four children and is unemployed. He cries that his children need to work rather than receive an education. Their joint monthly income is less than $150.
Diseases and sicknesses we encounter are, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid, heart problems, strokes, palsy, arthritis, rheumatism and paralysis. Some have medication and take it, some do not have, some will not take. There are those who have been to India for operations as there is no medical aid in Iraq. There are those who try to stabilize their condition and those who are weary and have given up.
I live in the camp so I am comfortable to visit, to hear the needs, to receive some requests for help. The sick and the elderly are actually the most beautiful people, they always thank us and bless us for our help. I leave them feeling that I have somehow made a contribution to their health.”
“Give justice to the weak, maintain the rights of the afflicted and destitute.”
Psalm 82 : 3
“I live in the camp with my family, I see and hear a lot because as a nurse people stop me and ask for advice. The stories are always hard, I can get used to doing routine practice as a nurse, but I will never get used to the suffering. I can share the stories of some of the people whom I visit every week.
Fahima is 30 years old. Her husband basically lost his mind when ISIS invaded Shingal. He has severe psychological issues. “I have a bad inheritance. My husband and son are both a heavy weight on my shoulders. They both suffer with their psychology, and my son is disabled from birth. This is my fate. This is my inheritance in life, one which I must bear. I need to see Jazia to see a person who is not sick, to talk to someone who will not judge me. I want to die in this camp. Our home is gone, destroyed, we will never return but who will build us a block house. Having a house would change my inheritance.”
“How can we be a healthy society? We live in tents, we are all anxious, all stressed, all nervous. We live in fear, fear of burning to death in our tents. Fear of the future, of what will happen with our children. Fear of what is still being done to them in ISIS. There is no day without fear, without pain. Of course we are sick. We don’t have the money for doctors or hospitals. Do you know how many people have cancer and leukemia? There is nothing we can do; we live out our days as best we can. You are the only people who remember us and visit.” - Murad Hassan.
The reality is hard, whenever Evan and I return to the Hope Centre, we have to make a change, eat something, go into the office, connect and chat, and kind of download from the weight of the visits. I enjoy going, I enjoy the connection, to have this kind of mobile clinic in addition to the Hope Clinic but to see continued suffering is very hard emotionally. I am grateful that Sunday morning is one of the music students' days, so when we return there is always the sound of music, laughter and chatter from them. It changes my mood. My hope returns.”
Yes, dear friends, it hurts. Two of our recent cowboy guests shared that upon return to the USA from being with us, they experienced a level of PTSD that took a couple of weeks to pass. As you can see our teacher Evan, also experiences some of the trauma when he visits.
The medical field is neither well developed nor accurate. A couple of winters ago I spent over a month trying to “push through” sinusitis. I finally gave in, and went to a local clinic. I returned with a bag stuffed full of medicine, for urine infection, gall bladder infection, just not for sinusitis. Last night one of my team forwarded me a medical report plus photos of five types of medicine he had been given for digestion. Four of the medications offered had nothing to do with digestion. I requested that he throw them away so that no one by chance would take them. We often wonder how many of our tent people have been taking the wrong medicine, incorrect dosage for years. Medical care is hit or miss, with sadly many misses.
It is a hard reality, but we are not ones who are without hope, we are carriers of hope. With every visit into the tents of sickness, we have the opportunity to push back the heaviness, to push back the darkness. I often refer to the prophet Isaiah, chapter 61 where he speaks about the divine exchange, “a crown of beauty from under the ashes, the oil of joy from underneath the mourning, and the garment of praise from underneath the spirit of despair."
The key to witnessing this radical transformation is willingness. The willingness to go and stand in the places of darkness, the tents where heaviness has the upper hand. As Isaiah wrote a few chapters earlier “If you pour yourself out for the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light shine in the darkness.” We contend for light in the darkness, to see this light invade the tents of the sick and broken in spirit.
This would be our reward. However hard the journey, however our emotions get turned upside down, we will continue to lend to the Lord.