One of my all-time favorite quotes is by the sweater-changing, puppet-serenading Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”
As the war with ISIS enters a new stage here in Iraq, there’s an invisible group of helpers that I want you to meet…
The young men in these photos are some of those helpers.
The most (in)famous young men in Iraq are the warriors, the ones who murder for ISIS or who signed up with the military or militias. But the young men in this photo have chosen a different way. They don’t raise fists. They don’t charge in with guns and bombs. They charge in with truck after truck of food, water, and medicine. They dig live babies out of rubble and rush them to the hospital. They feed and clothe and serve.
Odds are, many will gloss over the pictures of these men. The most “seen” people in stories like these from Iraq tend to be innocent-looking kids or widows or working moms—and rightfully so—but young men often go overlooked. It’s a sad reality and one that contributes to some of the problems plaguing this part of the world, but to those of you who are reading this and “seeing” these young men: thank you. They are heroes, showing up for families in need, again and again.
We’ve shared tea and meals. We’ve slept in a pile and wept over death and sang and hugged and argued and ducked for cover from sniper fire together. Most passing these people on the sidewalk wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a crowd—some would even move to the other side of the street if possible—but if so they’d miss a chance to meet a real hero. No capes, no muscly chests. Just a bunch of young men determined to respond to hate in a different way, dehydrated and tired and covered in flour.
They’re the helpers.