“The water you bring is the only water we have!”
Sirwan sits cross-legged on a gray floor cushion, opposite us in his tent. His son Renas sometimes peeks around the corner of the tent, too shy to join us. We’ve come to check in with the families at a displacement camp in northern Iraq, where you’ve been delivering water over the last two years.
Zawita is situated in one of the most picturesque spots I’ve seen anywhere in the world. It is located in the mountains east of Mosul, on a little outcropping of land that overlooks a deep valley, tucked between the road and a steep drop-off. As we approach the site, we pass several scenic picnic spots, also on bits of land that overlook the valley.
The site is beautiful, but it’s also remote. This is a place people go to escape the city—it’s not handy to anything else.
It’s great to live in such a beautiful place. But as much as poets encourage us to “drink in beauty,” you can’t put beauty in a glass and drink it.
You cannot bathe your babies in beauty, to rinse them clean of dust. You cannot wash your clothes in beauty. You cannot grow a tomato plant with beauty.
Beauty isn’t enough to live. You need water.
Three years ago, when these families fled ISIS and found a little spot that was safe enough for them to rest, there were several aid organizations around to help them get back on their feet. They received tents to live in, after ISIS destroyed their home and everything in them. They were able to get a little electricity from generators that power a nearby cell tower. The local municipality trucked in some water to tanks at the entrance to the makeshift camp.
Two years ago, there was less help. Organizations were already turning their attention to larger, official camps in places more convenient to access. The municipality, strapped for cash—as is every community during wartime—stopped trucking in water.
And now? Well, now there is just you.
Three years is a long time to be away from home. Ten families have since returned to their homeland in Sinjar, about a hundred miles away—anxious to begin the process of rebuilding their houses their lives. They packed up their tents from Zawita Camp, nylon tunnels that are their only homes now, and left concrete pad “scars” in the small community where their tents used to stand.
Sirwan tells us how hard it’s been for the families who returned. And dangerous. Especially with neighboring Turkey threatening to invade Sinjar, just like they did with the Syrian city of Afrin earlier this year.
Residents of Sinjar are terrified of another round of violence, destruction and displacement. In fact, some residents are so afraid, they are leaving Sinjar again in the hopes of saving their families from more pain.
Sirwan and the other families at Zawita Camp, they’re not ready to move back home. They, too, are afraid. Some of the women in their community were once held by ISIS—they suffer the effects of unspeakable trauma, and are in no position to return.
In Zawita Camp, at least they have safety, and they have beauty. But they struggle with many of the other things they need to live.
Because of you, Sirwan’s son Renas can come to the galvanized tank beside their tent and get a drink of clean water when he’s thirsty. Because of you, Renas has regular showers, and clean clothes to wear.
Because of you, Sirwan’s community isn’t forced into an impossible situation of returning to Sinjar before it is safe. You give them the ability to hold out until Sinjar is free of war, and to keep their children alive.
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