We help wherever we are needed
The help we provide takes many different forms. We can’t focus exclusively on development projects as sometimes we need to act to address unpredictable events.
That was the case during the fire in the Shariya camp. At the beginning of June, our friends in Iraq started sharing pictures and movies on Facebook showing huge puffs of smoke hovering above one of the camps for internally displaced persons. We quickly realized that it was a place we had visited many times. Shariya is located near Dahuk in northern Iraq. More than 15,000 people live there. The vast majority of them are refugees from Sinjar who arrived there in August 2014.
Around 400 tents burned down in a fire which was most probably caused by the failure of electrical installation. More than 250 families lost everything and were left without a roof over their heads. Many people got burn injuries. To this day – and soon three weeks will have passed – they have been living with their neighbors and relatives. The authorities promised to build new shelters for them, this time made of brick. I will write about it later on.
Bartek Rutkowski spoke about the fire in the Shariya camp and our help for the fire victims in the latest episode of FROM THE WATER TO THE SAND (watch).
Tent fires happen very often
This was neither the first nor most probably the last fire in a refugee camp in Iraq. Three years ago, three tents burned down during one of our visits. A 17-year-old girl was sleeping in one of them. She couldn’t be rescued as the fire spread very quickly. When I was in Khanke in March, a little house made of brick burned down in a small informal camp in Khanke. Luckily no one was hurt, but the family lost all their belongings. These are only two examples, but there have been many more such events over the last years.
In Shariya, the fire lasted around 20 minutes. Therefore, those 400 tents perished at an unimaginable speed of twenty tents per minute (!). Had that happened at night, most probably there would have been hundreds of victims. Could this tragedy have been avoided? Probably yes. First of all, we need to remember that camps for internally displaced persons in Iraq were meant to serve as a temporary shelter. People were expected to return to their towns and villages as soon as possible. The infrastructure prepared for them was not built for a permanent settlement. Hence, the electricity network was not prepared for such a large overload.
In August, seven years will have passed since people fleeing ISIS atrocities arrived here. Those families were forced to learn how to get on in their new predicament. While living in a camp, they were trying to create some substitute for normalcy. They needed to supply themselves with domestic appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, cookers, etc. No one washes their clothes or provides them with meals. They need to look after all this on their own. Sometimes they receive money from various organizations, other times they get some benefits from the government. Some people do odd jobs to be able to provide for themselves.
What’s the solution to this problem?
In the face of this tragedy, we sent 5000 euros (around 22,000 zlotys) to buy food and cleaning products for the affected families. We were unable to provide more since we are currently in the process of opening four new workplaces and building three new houses. We have also helped a boy who urgently needed heart surgery. We are aware it is not much, but we couldn’t leave those people without any help. Other organizations that we know or work with provided support as well, buying washing machines and cookers, among other things.
But I would like to go back for a moment to the issue of shelters which families that lost a roof over their heads and all their belongings are about to receive. Several days ago, I spoke to my friend from Iraq. He mentioned that the construction works have begun, but we both concluded that it didn’t make much sense. Instead of helping those families to go back home which they fled from seven years ago, the authorities are now going to build new shelters in the same camp. It’s difficult to say whether this action is deliberate, or if it is based on a wrong premise that these people still want to live in a camp for internally displaced persons. On one hand, their presence helps to obtain humanitarian aid from large international organizations. On the other hand, some of those families are still afraid to go back to Sinjar since the political situation there is very complicated. It’s enough to say that the region is still very unstable and several rival forces are trying to take control over that area. People who merely want a normal life and safety for their children suffer as a result.
Help for children in Sinjar
The good news, which Bartek also mentioned in the last episode FROM THE WATER TO THE SAND is the commencement of activities in the Educational Center in Sardashty in the Sinjar Mountains. The funds for its construction come from the 1% of your income tax that you have donated through the Children Help Foundation in Zywiec. This money comes from the tax return for the period of 2017-2018 (so they were donated in 2018 and 2019). The center was built in a year and a half. The pandemic and restrictions in Iraq forced us to stop the works twice for several months. But ultimately it was opened in May this year.
For the time being, the center’s activities take place spontaneously. There is a lessons plan, but we are trying to see which ones will the pupils like the most. The ongoing activities include English lessons, computer courses for adults and children, as well as gymnastics and sports activities. This month, 80 children and 20 adults have been attending classes. We would like this number to grow, but it requires significant financial means. For the activities to continue, we need around 4000 euros or 18,000 zlotys. We are sure that with your help we’ll manage to get the necessary means.
PS. We are trying not to dazzle with suffering, especially when it concerns children. In this article, below the title, I used a picture of a crying boy sitting on a bike, which was destroyed during the fire in Shariya. I couldn’t find the author, but this picture appeared on Facebook shortly after the tragedy. I didn’t place it there to cause pity, but to show that there are good people that bring back hope with small gestures. The next day after the fire, doctor Saed from the Springs of Hope Foundation based in the Shariya camp gave this boy and several other children new bikes (shown in the photo below).