Rewaq (above: distributing Ramadan Food Boxes in 2013) began her career as a volunteer in Baghdad’s poorest neighbourhoods. Today, she oversees hundreds of volunteers and 13 vocational skills centres. This Ramadan, she is helping to highlight the plight of the millions of displaced in Iraq, and how we – all over the world – can help. Here, she tells us more about her work.
“Ramadan is, of course, a month of reflection and unity for Muslims worldwide. In Iraq, it really is one of the most beautiful and spiritual months of the year, a special time for all families. Like everyone else, I fast each day between sunrise and sunset and at this time of the year that is an awfully long time!
My husband, my children and I wait excitedly for Ramadan in the months leading up to the holy period. We look forward to its rituals – traditions that bring families, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and even whole communities, together. We meet every night at Iftar meals to break the fast. At tables full of Iraqi food, we eat lentil soup (shorbat adess), dolma, rice and different meat and vegetable stews, followed by sweets and desserts. We drink delicious juices, fresh orange juice, lemon juice, tamarind juice and apricot juice, as well as dairy drinks (laban).
We quietly fill our stomachs and quench our thirst from Iftar to Suhoor, stopping when the ‘dawn awakeners’ or ‘musahirati’ come through the town streets to announce the nearing of the day’s fast. They strike their drums, chant and sing songs to wake Muslims up before sunrise for the light Suhoor meal before the fast.
They are occasions which are full of joy and celebration for my children and me, but Ramadan and Eid are not only a time for self-reflection – they are also a time to think about others. There are now over 3.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq. After Daesh’s attacks on their cities, towns and villages, Iraqi women, men and children are suffering from ongoing violence, homelessness, poverty, malnutrition and mental health difficulties.
The long hours and high temperatures of the Iraqi summer make fasting incredibly hard for Muslim IDPs. Some of these people live in makeshift camps, but many have almost no humanitarian support whatsoever, living in towns and cities across the country wherever they can find space. You can imagine, with the thermometer sometimes reading 50 degrees Celsius, and with no air conditioning (as power supplies are often inconsistent or even entirely absent) the days drag on painfully slowly. Their lack of funds and shortage of clean water means their sacred Iftar meals often lack the nutrients and vitamins so badly needed to satisfy their hunger and to get them through the day’s fast.
I am in charge of over 650 female volunteers and 13 vocational skills centres, from Dohuk in the North to Basra in the South. Together we work to supply Iraqis in need, including displaced persons, with education, healthcare and emergency aid, food and medicines. AMAR’s Women Health Volunteers help to identify the most vulnerable displaced families in Iraq – the ones who need our support the most.
A team of these volunteers and I have visited many internally displaced families in Baghdad, as well as Khanke and Mamilian camps in the Kurdish region. The situation we found them in and the environment in which they are living is unsustainable; one single tent housed as many as eighteen people. The conditions are impossible to accept.
Health centres established in camps such as Khanke and Mamilian provide essential long term health support for displaced families. And our Ramadan Appeal is raising funds to send food boxes to Iraq’s most vulnerable communities including the internally displaced. During Ramadan, necessities, like food and medicine, are doubly important, enabling families to observe their traditions without fear of illness.
Their lives are difficult in so many ways. One young girl, Zaynab, was living in Tal Afar when Daesh attacked her home, her mother and many of her other loved ones were killed. She woke up in hospital and found out that she’d lost both her legs, and her sisters were also wounded. We have helped her to get artificial legs and to learn how to walk again. They now live with their dad in a relative’s house in Baghdad, which is dark and very crowded, but at least they are safe.
I stay awake at night knowing that there are families who we have not managed to reach: fathers, mothers, sons and daughters who are too sick, poor or burdened to practice their faith and to live their joyous Ramadan, Easter or Nowruz. My goal is to find these people and to help them each and every day. This Eid, when we will all be celebrating with the people closest to us, please remember those in need and support our work.”