On this International Day of Peace, our students describe their vision of a brighter future, for this war ridden region.
Should you choose to Google “International Day of Peace” which we marked this week, you will be informed that “a culture of peace is a culture of dialogue and prevention” to which my response is, ”Yes, But, listen to our kids before defining peace”.
Our students are those who lived in peace, in simple baked mud houses for the most, those whose life reflected the rich tapestry of quiet agricultural communities on fertile land which produced most of Iraq’s wheat, barley, pomegranates, dates and figs. Students whose peace and safety were stripped from them in brief moments of time as they found themselves running for their lives, or being carried off into the bowels of darkness, many betrayed by their Arab neighbours, violently breaking the code of peace by which they had lived.
We asked our youth who know the face of war from up close, to depict “Peace“ for us. We asked them to speak of peace through the medium of art. Today we give the youth of war, a platform. You may disagree with them but this is their journey, their vision and perspective and their voice coming from the ancient region of Mesopotamia, a region historically marked by periods of extreme cruelty and bloodshed.
“Peace is the most important thing in our life. We are the new generation and if we genuinely had peace we could accomplish much. Even from our tents we could build for the coming generations. Without peace we can do nothing. I pray that we will find the courage to rise up and build.“
“The title of my painting is “ Building Peace”. Peace does not just drop down, peace has to be built. It is a process. Peace and hope can not be separated. The road to peace is through hope. My painting shows the rebuilding of Sinjar. It will be hope that takes us back to our farmlands and homes. ISIS painted Sinjar in black. The hope of peace will rebuild, the hope of peace will bring new colours and life back. We will eradicate the black of ISIS and paint it in new colours. The colours of hope and of peace“.
- Ahmed Qawal
“I called my painting“ Choose Peace. “I believe that peace is a choice. It is a choice even in times of crisis, maybe even more so in times of crisis. The storm clouds have gathered and everything is dark and gloomy. But I can still choose peace. I have the ability to pull those storm clouds back and to choose to believe in peace, to choose to set my course for peace. The rainbow, the grass and the doves all show that there is a hope and there is a future, we just have to choose it and believe in it. I live in a tent, we have lost everything but I know that it is up to me to make decisions for peace. Hope, Peace, they are my responsibility“.
- Ahmed Hassan
We have three super cool teens whom we label as Triple A. They fought together on the frontlines of Syria pushing back the borders for the Caliphate. They were rescued together. Their names all begin with A. Once free they tried to make it illegally to Europe together each with only a few dollars in their pocket and ended up sitting in a jail of a neighbouring country along with captured members of ISIS. ( Upon return, which was more a kind of dumping them back over the border, we avoided saying, “We told you a stunt like this wouldn’t work“. A kind of rise together, fall together three team. They turn up wearing the same tshirts, what one says, the other echoes. Triple A, an inseparable team who spoke out about peace, or the lack thereof.
“We actually don’t want to leave Iraq. This is our home. We don’t want asylum in another country but lack of peace forces us into looking elsewhere. Look we are only 20 and we have already lost everything. Hatred took our families from us. The lack of peace took our homes, our lands, our friends and neighbours. Hatred killed them, hatred stole from us. We lost everything and yet we picked ourselves up and began again with nothing and no one, in a land we did not know, from a tent. This is our third life. We lived in Sinjar, we lived in Daesh and now we live in a refugee camp. We don’t know what to do. We want peace but we have none. So should we leave our tent and try yet again in a far country? That would be our fourth beginning, all because there is no peace. We do not hate, we believe in diversity, we believe in coexistence. Just give us the ability to live out our beliefs in peace and security“.
Shadia speaks of diversity in her contribution to the Peace Exhibition:
“Prior to the genocide, I had not experienced hatred. We lived alongside Muslim neighbours and we did everything together. Despite the fact that many of them betrayed us, I still believe in coexistence. I am not sure that we can live together at the moment, the wounds are still open but I know that it is up to us, the new generation to join hands and to work for peace. We can not look at race, ethnicity or religion, we must hold hands, accept each other, accept our differences and build peace together. I trust and hope that we will see peace in our time and give this as an inheritance to our children“.
Zaid is a quiet thinker. A true artist, loving to paint, write and play music. His mother keeps us well stocked with baked fig cookies, sending a fresh supply from her stone oven once a week. Zaid wields his words sparingly but with thought:
"My painting is called ‘I will see peace’, because we will. The kids of this region who were covered in the blood of war, will see peace”.
“I was asked to paint about peace but all I could paint was Hope. I think that hope is a precursor to peace. Our situation has been dire, and even now as we enter into our sixth year of living in tents, our situation is actually awful. There is however always an open door in front of us which we must not overlook. When things are bad it is easy not to see this door and to totally miss it. This little girl, the picture of youth and innocence, is drawing a window on the wall in front of her indicating that there is still hope. Hope has not died, hope has not been taken from her. Look at how I painted the doves, they are flying. They are a picture of everlasting hope. Maybe yes now we are suffering but with the encouragement of the doves, we will walk through this open door into a future of hope“.
You may question why we place such attention upon the medium of art. The excellence of art is an indication of our students’ approach to life. It is a barometer of their journey of restoration. When a people such as the Yezidi community loses its identity, through being uprooted, through genocide and persecution, then the value for beauty is diminished because they have gone into survival mode.
Beauty, colour, structure in art is a direct indication of their journey. From that of shock and survival mode to one of restoration and creative expression. This is one of the main reasons why we let our art spill out of our blue gates and head to paint neglected areas in our community, or areas which lack colour and beauty. We desire to share our joy in restoration, to present an alternative to survival mode, to release a creative expression over the camp and the village that will touch the soul of the community and bring the joy which is a mark of our journey.
I speak for all of us here at Springs of Hope Foundation when we say that we have such high regard for our students, for their ability to define their need for both peace and hope. We honor their journey, one of choosing to put aside the hatred, bitterness and anger that is so easily justifiable. Their journey is deliberate, that of determined pioneers. It’s the path of the righteous and the just which is to “Turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it“. Psalm 34. The kids who have come from war are doing just that. Blessed are the peacemakers.