“Can I go onto the roof?”
I gestured more than asked, my eyebrows raised as I posed the question. The boy smiled and bounded up the stairs of an unfinished house near our delivery site, stopping at the first landing to make sure I was following behind.
From the roof, we could see the trucks full of aid parked side by side, residents lined up with their identification papers in hand. In the other direction we could see across the neighborhood’s empty rooftops to the mountains beyond.
There were no families’ laundry drying in the sunshine and warmth. Nothing stored up on those generous flat roofs. Some of the houses were damaged. Some abandoned. Some were only partially constructed and then abandoned when ISIS arrived to this neighborhood of Sinjar in northern Iraq.
I crept to the roof’s edge to get a better look of the aid delivery in process. My new friend could sense that I was nervous about being so high up—and I was. It felt precarious.
So he began to sing, an unexpected kindness that relaxed me immediately. It was this type of hospitality and kindness that marked our latest delivery in Sinjar.
At every turn, the Yazidi families we met while delivering the food and hygiene packs you provided—they were dignified and kind. They were patient as we set up, patient as we ironed out the kinks that come up with every delivery, and patient until it was their turn to step to the head of the line and receive heavy bags of food and flour, and a box packed with soap and hygiene supplies.
Many residents were too shy to speak on camera or stand for a photo, yet they still welcomed conversation. They wanted to tell us about their lives. They wanted us to know that they feel very much like I did on the edge of the rooftop.
Their lives are precarious.
When ISIS descended on Sinjar back in 2014 and began a strategic plan to kill and enslave the Yazidi people, Yazidi towns were pummeled in the process. Communities were bombed with conventional munitions as well as chemical weapons. Whole neighborhoods were destroyed. Cell towers were toppled and vandalized, knocking out communications. Wells were ruined and electrical systems destroyed. Most schools were taken over by military groups—they were viewed as convenient, ready-built bases instead of safe places for children to learn.
When you add it all up, the vast majority of basic services families need to live in Sinjar were knocked out.
Thousands of families have made the brave step to return to Sinjar anyway. And life is just as hard as you might imagine.
Many of the families who returned aren’t living in the homes they left when they fled—those were destroyed in the war. Instead, they are living temporarily in other people’s homes, until the owners return.
They told us how much they need electricity and water. They told us they need work, so they can feed their families.
They also told us of their terror that war will return soon. Neighboring Turkey, in a bid to protect its own borders, is threatening to bomb Sinjar to remove the remaining militias.
The Yazidi people have faced abandonment so many times. They need to know they’re not alone.
It’s exactly into this need and fear that you showed up. You drove straight into their precarious situation with trucks of food and hygiene kits. We provided essential nutrition, yes. But more than that, we brought our presence.
When I nervously stood on the edge of that roof in Sinjar, a young boy sang to me to ease my fear. In showing up to Sinjar you brought a song too—for the people of Sinjar. We see your precarious position, and we’re here with you.
Sinjar food distribution video by Ihsan Ibraheem.