No Easy Road to Empowerment: After Fighting ISIS, Marwan Fights to Keep His Family’s Sheep Alive

“This is the fourth lamb born this month—all have died immediately.”

Marwan stands next to the small, lifeless bundle lying still in the grass. Tears well in his eyes. “They have been with us a year. We have kept them so healthy.”

He looks across the road from the shipping container that serves as his family’s home. “My son, he walks the sheep across to that open pasture to graze twice a day.”

Last year, an empowerment grant allowed Marwan and his wife, Gozê, to start rebuilding their lives after losing everything to ISIS. Gozê started a soapmaking business, while Marwan purchased 30 sheep, which soon grew to a flock of more than 60.

Marwan tells us how their little flock gives them daily milk to drink and make delicious yogurt and cheese. How they have provided a consistent supply of food—precious security in an uncertain world.

Now, the sheep are also a source of worry.

The tears in the corners of Marwan’s eyes are not tears of weakness. This is a man who stared ISIS in the face. When they attacked his village in Sinjar, northern Iraq, he fought while his family fled up the mountain.

As we watch Marwan’s frustration build, we know this is something far more profound than mere sentiment.

These are tears of exasperation.
There is an outbreak of disease among sheep and other livestock across the region. Government officials are the only ones with access to the specific antidote. They have promised to deliver dosages to infected flocks, but it has been four weeks, and it hasn’t been released yet.

They are tears of sacrifice.
Marwan refused to sit by and watch his sheep die. He sacrificed sleep to nurse his flock through the night. He sacrificed convenience to graze the diseased sheep in a separate pasture to protect his neighbors’ flocks. He sacrificed $300 of his family’s precious savings to pay veterinary fees. Private veterinarians do not have access to the antidote, but they are doing their best to treat the symptoms and keep the sheep healthy enough to survive the course of the disease. Marwan knows that these sheep were an investment in his family’s future, and he is willing to sacrifice everything he can to care for them.

save lives on the frontlines of war

They are tears of fear.
With the invasion of ISIS, Marwan and Gozê lost everything they had worked so hard to build—their home, their livelihood, their community—in an instant. They were forced to start over in a new place with absolutely nothing. Over the last year, through your loving support, they started to put the pieces back in place. Now, an invisible disease threatens to erase their hard work once again.

They are tears of uncertainty.
Every displaced family faces a choice: stay or go. Those who leave as refugees face a perilous journey, along with an uncertain future rebuilding their lives among the unknowns of Europe. Those who stay face the difficulty of rebuilding their lives within Iraq’s bruised infrastructure. Both choices are defined by utter uncertainty. Marwan and Gozê contemplated leaving Iraq. However, they chose to stay and rebuild, despite the fear that all could be lost again. By standing with Marwan and Gozê as they lean into the uncertainty in Iraq, you give them the courage to stay and invest in a more promising future for themselves and for the whole country.

They are tears of determination.
There is no straight road to empowerment. There are real risks and inherent dangers when we work in the messy business of unmaking violence and remaking lives. Things do not always go as planned. There are setbacks along the way. Sheep can get sick and die. These are some of the risks we accept when we choose to love anyway and walk alongside friends like Marwan and Gozê, who are determined to rebuild their lives and the country they love. These setbacks do not diminish their determination or ours.

They are tears of hope.
With the money he already spent, Marwan was able to lead 20 sheep safely through the course of the disease. And with your help, we were able to purchase treatments for the remaining sheep, giving them the best possible chance for survival.

Despite the risks, Marwan and Gozê are determined to succeed, to remake their world. Because of you, they still have a chance to start again. They have one more reason to stay. Thank you for standing alongside them.

Please continue to stand with Iraq’s displaced families as they walk the difficult road to stability. Donate today.

Photos: Erin Wilson, Christine Anderson