Sweet taste of survival and resilience By Nima Tamaddon/IOM Iraq, 2019

Each of the three women was going about her normal life when ISIL overran Sinjar, forcing them to run for their lives, fleeing the wreckage of their villages for the distant promise of a safe haven.

Along the way, they faced unimaginable levels of horror, uncertainty and despair.

Now, after more than four years of a transformative journey of survival, the trio of Malika Sha’aboo, 32, Safa Faisal, 28, and Shireen Haidar, 30, work together to run a kitchen and café at Qadiya camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) near the city of Dohuk in northern Iraq.

Photo: Nima Tamaddon/IOM Iraq - 2019

The women did not know one another until they attended an IOM course on livelihood training.

“Our love of cooking was all we had left of our previous lives, after all those months of hardship. It was perhaps the only gift we could use to have hope again,” said Shireen, mother of six, from Tel Ezeir, a Yazidi town situated south of Mount Sinjar.

When ISIL fighters began their onslaught in Sinjar in August 2014, Shireen and her extended family were among those who fled en masse from the area.

After being briefly held by ISIL in a nearby village, Shireen and her family escaped to Mount Sinjar, where they spent a few weeks besieged on the mountain top. They were finally evacuated from the mountain and found shelter in an unfinished building in Zakho for six months before reaching Qadiya camp in mid 2015.

Shireen Haidar, third from right, says that their love of cooking was all they had left of their previous lives. Photo: Nima Tamaddon/IOM Iraq - 2019

Malika and her family, from Khanasor, did not have such a lucky escape. As they did not have a car, they were forced to flee on foot. ISIL caught up with them, captured them and killed Malika’s father-in-law. Malika and her remaining family members finally managed to flee ISIL through Syria, travelling to Zakho before ending up at Qadiya camp.

Most of Qadiya camp residents are from the district of Sinjar, an overwhelmingly Yazidi area, but the camp is also home to other ethnoreligious groups.

ISIL’s attack and occupation of Sinjar and other parts of Iraq has shattered the already fragile relationships between groups, but in Qadiya camp, Muslim women like Safa live and work alongside their Yazidi friends.

Safa Faisal, right, says they have faced tough times in the last four years but it has made them stronger. Photo: Nima Tamaddon/IOM Iraq - 2019

A mother of three girls from Zummar, north of Mosul, Safa once studied law at Dohuk University but did not complete her degree because she got married. Having the experience of higher education, Safa said, helped her to work as a volunteer with NGOs since arriving to Qadiya camp.

“We have fallen down several times in the last four years, and every time we got up again stronger,” Safa recalls, her eyes filling with tears of sorrow. “Now we are full of hope in this new journey of running a business.”

All three women agree that despite their years of displacement, outrage and despair, they have also had the opportunity to develop strong personal bonds in their temporary home, Qadiya camp, and this bond has now given life to an exciting new business venture.

The IOM training course on livelihoods contribute to psychosocial wellbeing and access to income-generating opportunities for vulnerable and displaced women in Dohuk and Ninewa. Photo: Nima Tamaddon/IOM Iraq - 2019

“I was not a self-confident person, but when I approached IOM as a volunteer cooking trainer, I found myself,” said Shireen. “IOM gave us this opportunity to get to know each other and develop a new skill to establish our business.”

The IOM training course on livelihoods, attended by the three women, were funded by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS), with the overall goal of contributing to psychosocial wellbeing and improving access to income-generating opportunities for vulnerable and displaced women in Dohuk and Ninewa. The project targeted a group of 1,000 women, 70 percent of whom from the Yazidi community.

During the training, Malika said, the women learned new business skills including ways to reach out to customers, dealing with budgets and developing marketing strategies.

For Shireen, the main takeaways of the training were small but important details. “Before attending the training, we had no idea how to market our business or how to deal with products’ shelf life,” She said.

“For example, now we know that when the expiry date of a product is approaching, as a marketing strategy, it’s time to sell two products for the price of one, before being forced to let it go for free.”

In Qadiya camp, near Dohuk, Muslim women live and work alongside their Yazidi friends. Photo: Nima Tamaddon/IOM Iraq - 2019

“In the framework of this project, IOM’s support included initial training and ongoing coaching and mentoring, as the women used small grants to put their skills into practice,” said Siobhan Simojoki, head of IOM’s Community Stabilization Unit.

“Iraqi families who survived ISIL’s atrocities have suffered immeasurably. In IDP camps and host communities in Dohuk, IOM is providing mental health and psychosocial support, while also empowering women to meet the needs of their families and seeking to restore hope in their community. We are extremely grateful for the support provided by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation – especially as there are significant gaps in the funding available to provide mental health and psychosocial support and other services to Yazidi and other IDPs,” added Simojoki.

The trio of women have decided to call their café “Sweets of Hope”.

“We also have plans for the future. Once our areas of origin are secure and prosperous enough for us to go back, we will expand the brand in our three areas of origin,” Shireen said.

“For now, it’s time to recruit our husbands to work in and support the kitchen,” Malika added, laughing.


Story and Photos by Nima Tamaddon/IOM Iraq, 2019

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