21/05/2013 – It’s raining cats and dogs and mud sticks to the soles of our shoes as soon as we start walking through Domiz camp. Domiz is currently one of two camps for refugees from Syria in the Kurdish part of Iraq. It hosts about 40,000 people.
Neither the weather nor the mud seems to bother the 50 or more families gathered in the shell of a building, painted in bright mauve with no doors and windows yet. Children of all ages are running around, volunteers surrounded by groups of parents are crouching on the concrete floor, filling in forms. Today parents can register their children to join activities in the Child-friendly space run by ACTED – one of the projects funded by the European Union’s Nobel Peace Prize through the Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department. In the middle of it all, 39-year Carmel Aqeel Abdul-Wahid, a stack of over 100 already completed forms under her arm, is advising mothers, explaining to fathers and laughing with the children.
‘I was a refugee myself’ she explains to me much later over the phone when she has a quiet moment. ’Originally I am from Baghdad. Together with my husband and my three children I had to flee the violence in 2006. We came to Dohuk because I had an aunt living here. The city had the reputation of being quiet and most importantly my husband found a job at the university’. Her children were then aged 13, 10 and 3. ‘I wish there had been such places for my children at the time!’ recalls Carmel. ‘Coming here was very difficult for them. They had lost their home, their toys and their friends. Here everything was new: the people, the language (Kurdish is the official language spoken in the Kurdish part of Iraq ; people from Bagdad, but also the Syrian refugees, speak and write mainly Arabic), the environment.’
In two different buildings surrounded by a small garden and a space to play, ACTED will organise activities for refugee children but also for adolescents: crafts, sports and social skills on how to cope in a camp where there is little privacy, and space needs to be shared with people they hardly know. ‘Parents want their children to join our activities because they learn something and they are safe here. There is huge demand for places for smaller children’ she says ‘Unfortunately parents prefer to send their adolescent children to work. They need the income.’
ACTED will offer 400 places to children and teenagers organising them in 2 shifts, similar to the school day, to allow them to join ACTED’s activities while they are not at school. 14 volunteers have already been recruited to work with the children, most of them from among the Syrian refugees; they share their language, their culture and part of their memories. ‘We will be ready to start in a few days once all the works on the buildings are completed‘ explains Carmel. She plans on an opening party with a famous Kurdish singer from Dohuk.
‘I like the idea that this project enabling children to be children in all safety and to learn important skills, is funded by the money the EU received for the Nobel Peace Prize’ adds Carmel, who has set up several child-friendly spaces in Iraq for ACTED in the past 2 years. ‘I take it as a sign that despite the war in Syria, Humanity values the right of children to grow up in peace. ‘
By Heinke Veit,
Regional Information Officer in Amman