That word evokes an instant response for many—memories, sounds, and smells. When home is a family farm, memories often include stories shared with earlier generations. In ancient cities like Samarra, those collective stories stretch back thousands of years.
When you drive south from Mosul to Baghdad, you travel an ancient transportation corridor that runs along the Tigris River. You drive through the city of Baiji, where oil is processed and shipped. You drive through Tikrit. And where the road forks south-west to Ramadi, you come to the city of Samarra.
Samarra is a complicated sort of home. It is a majority Sunni city with significant Shia holy sites. It was an early Islamic capital and home to Shia spiritual leaders. More recently it is home to 50,000 residents, as well as a spiritual home for countless pilgrims who come to worship.
Well, it was.
That same highway that made it so easy for pilgrims and goods to move freely also allowed ISIS to sweep in. With jihadists and heavy weapons, they took over the city, leaving a just handful of residents, too old, sick, or young to flee.
Shia militias and the Iraqi army fought hard to regain the city—and as of the last few days Samarra is now free, at a cost.
Liberation is destructive.
In the process of freeing the city from ISIS, much was destroyed: homes, businesses, and this year’s farm crops.
While the situation in the area is still volatile, residents of Samarra want to return home. In reality, most will be starting over from scratch. We have seen first-hand, in serving displaced families across Iraq over the last several months, how devastating long-term displacement can be.
So we are showing up with a message for the residents of Samarra: we want to help you return home. We want to help you build peace.
We are working in three key sections of the city providing small business grants that allow shops to re-open and to be the food solution for 3,500 returning neighbours. Distributing critically-needed food through local shops instead of bringing it in from outside communities gets local business open faster, and fosters entrepreneurship.
We are working to support families to return to their homes (or what is left of their homes) to allow them the chance to rebuild their houses, stable communities and productive daily lives.
We are working with both Shiite militias who are securing these sections of the city and local Sunni community leaders. Trust between these groups has long been fragile here, but is now shattered. We providing a bridge for those from both groups who want peace.
There is a famous old saying, “he’s got an appointment in Samarra,” which is a metaphor for impending death.
When you give to help Iraqi families rebuild their lives, you schedule a different, life-giving, life-rebuilding kind of appointment in Samarra.