Not being the best of friends with computers, I have overlooked writing about one of our departments that has consistently given our students keys since Kajen entered our life in 2017. Today our focus is upon Kajen and her students, through their eyes and voices. I hope that you hear Kajen’s voice, it is a rare voice. There are not many Yezidi women who work. There are still fewer who continue to work once married. And there are less of the fewer who continue to work once a child is born. Kajen is not the norm. Kajen is the exception. And she is teaching our Yezidi students to be exceptional.
“Hi dear friends. My name is Kajen, but my close friends call me Kaj. I was born and raised in Shariya and am married and have one daughter who is the light of my life.
When I was in primary school my dream, and this was my first love, was to study in the Institute of Art in Duhok University. None of my family agreed, not my parents and not my uncles. There was no one who spoke for me or who listened to my heart and passion. I held the dream inside me until I was close to graduating high school when I raised it again. I was met by the same answer, No. One of my uncles was emphatic that being a girl it was more prudent for me to go to the College of Education. That was the last thing that I wanted.
At that point something rose up in me where I made a decision that I would take responsibility for my life and I would make life choices for myself.
I honored my family’s wish not to study art, but I applied for the College of Environmental Science and was accepted. No one regarded that department as beneficial but I learned much including English. Upon graduating I tried hard to be accepted for my Masters in the Netherlands but I could not raise the money so gave up on that dream.
In 2019 I got married to the most wonderful man who has the most wonderful family. When we married and I moved into his home in Shariyam along with his parents and siblings, it felt easy, natural as if we had always been family. He works in IT and is passionate about computers. He works in Duhok and works long hours. He understands and supports me as do his family. They never argued about me continuing to work both as his wife and as a mother, they are the kindest people ever. Marrying my husband truly changed my life for good, and then yet again the day that my Darla (short for Darling) was born.
Having Darla whom I love so much was actually hard. In the early days of pregnancy I was not happy, I was depressed and even thought about how I could get rid of her. Gradually I came to a place of acceptance, then peace and finally excitement. She is my everything. I divide my time according to her needs, work needs and finally my own needs. I enjoy every minute of every day with her.
I began to teach computers at Springs of Hope in 2017. The early days were hard. The first students to register were children of 8 and 9 years old, and all they wanted was movies or to have fun. Nothing I did, nothing I showed them would work, they kept going back to YouTube and movies. My story with them, with several groups of that age is long. Yet I saw their innocence, uprooted tent kids with family lost in captivity, I could not judge them. I decided to make a change and accept younger children, who actually had a desire to learn this mysterious device that sat on a table. They had never even heard of a computer let alone seen one. A world was opening up to them. Those in their early teens would come, look and walk away saying “why should we learn when we have no computer at home?” I then opened a class for the older teens and young adults. This was a total hit. Those at the end of high school preparing for entry to the world of Computer Science in the University came, and those already in the first year of Uni. I tried to bring them more information, programmes relevant to their studies. My husband helped me by giving me precise information on their university studies so that I could plan accordingly. We opened an amazing Zoom course with an Indian gentleman who taught coding for those who had attained a high level of proficiency.
I look at this department with the experience of a few years under my belt, I see our waiting list, I see the students coming to class every morning without fail. There are no actual computers used in classes in Kurdistan, Computer Science is only theoretical. I have had married couples with children walk five kilometers each way to study, to touch a laptop. We have helped some students to purchase laptops. This is known as the geeky silent class. They are all busy working, grabbing every bit of knowledge that they can in the knowledge that this could be the key to their future. All of my students are super special and each one has a different story. I have one deaf and dumb girl who was rescued from ISIS. She learns in order to develop a method of communication other than a simple form of sign language. I have the wheelchair bound guys who want to know everything, and study everything so that they have a stack of qualifications and will be able to progress and be on an equal level with more physically able students.
Jager, a tent kid, is 17, he studies in high school and is preparing himself for college. His father is a day worker with no steady income, when there is payment for a day’s work it barely buys food for the large family. His father has insisted that he and his siblings study, they are not allowed to slack or do day work to supplement the meager income. Jager’s father amazingly saved over two years to buy him a used computer. Jager now does all his school work on his laptop to continue to practice at home. He is one who I see will go far as I see his and his family’s level of sacrifice for him to study.
Ida is something else. She is 16 and plans to be a businesswoman. She is quiet and very introverted and also very determined. She had never seen a computer before she came to my class. She had seen movies with businesswomen going to work carrying their laptop. She set her goal. Should you see her, you would think that she is a businesswoman working in a corporate company. One day she will be.
ANWAR AND SULTAN
Anwar and Sultan are inseparable childhood friends. They are now 25 years old and study in the University of Mosul. They still drop by when they return to the camp, and whenever there is a university holiday they return to study and brush up their skills.
Anwar in particular refers anyone that he hears talking about computers to me, I have taught many of his friends. Wherever I open a new course in computer programming, I call him and he sends just the perfect students.
Hana is 20, she was rescued from ISIS. She had friends who were studying with me, one day she came with them out of curiosity and stayed. She had never heard of a computer and never seen one. Springs of Hope supports her financially which has enabled her to purchase a laptop which she describes as her “best friend”. She is a great student, reviewing every class, coming prepared, She knows that wherever she may go in life, with English and computer skills, she will be able to work.
Accomplishments are different for everyone. Tahsin is 25 and comes to study after his college studies. He first came to us between high school and college, he came for a specific reason namely to learn how to make PowerPoint presentations, which he learned fast.
One day he told me that he received a zero when giving an academic presentation as he is so terribly shy. I gave him an assignment over a few months, that every week he would make a short PowerPoint which he would present to class. Tahsin not only succeeded, he learned the skill of lecturing, and connecting with his audience. Tahsin became brave and courageous. He has received good marks ever since.
Rahima is another of our rescued girls, she is 16 years old. She lives with her brother who works in a small shop. She began to learn computers with the other rescued kids but she did not take it seriously. She would tell me at the start of every class, “I have no mood to learn today.” She would sit in class because her girlfriends were there, but she would be looking at clothes and make-up on Instagram.
One day I discovered that a laptop was missing. It turned out that Rahima had taken it home to her tent to try to catch up and learn. When we spoke she told me that she was tired of clothes and make-up, and had decided to take her studies seriously and to really learn. Today she is doing well and is successful in her studies.
This is a “problem” that I find with several of the rescued girls, their attention span and focus is short and they have missed years of their life whilst hidden in black clothes, locked away in captivity. When they are released they splurge on clothes and make-up for a while and then usually rebalance and become serious with studies, knowing that their future now lies in their hands.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about me and some of my students. I teach about 100 students every year, and have many stories to tell, some happy and some very sad. I love my work, I love my students and I want to give them every bit of knowledge that I have so that they can build a good future.
With love from Kajen
CAN YOU HELP?
Can you help us open doors to a future and a hope? Our computer classes are equipping students to see that their dreams are possible.