The Refugee Who Risks His Life to Help Others

“Who taught you to live this life of helping others?”

“My father.”

Marwan grabbed his phone, quickly swiped his finger across the screen until he stopped at a photo of his father, Barakat—a handsome man with a thick moustache, dressed in traditional clothes.

Everyone in the community respected Marwan’s father. He was the head of his tribe, the wise voice you turned to if you needed advice and a mediator to help repair broken relationships between neighbours.

Barakat was a husband and father, friend and mentor. He was a farmer, like his rural Yazidi parents, grandparents and all that came before him. He was a serial entrepreneur, starting dozens of successful businesses. Barakat had a way of seeing and responding to need.

He was Marwan’s world.

They were inseparable, Marwan and his dad. Marwan learned much of what he knows from living life at his father’s side. He learned how to be a good husband and father by watching what his dad modeled at home. He learned how to be a good neighbour by going on visits with his dad, watching the way he listened and spoke. He learned how to be generous by watching his father give, again and again, to those in need.

Marwan’s dad gave him big responsibilities early in life. At 10 years old, Marwan prepared his father’s car for him to go on visits. He was so young when he learned to drive that his dad had to put pillows on the seat so he could see over the steering wheel. Barakat put Marwan in charge of the family farm and taught him all he needed to know to raise produce and animals. Eventually, he put Marwan in charge of many of his businesses, knowing that he could trust him with every detail.

It’s easy to grow into a hard-working, trustworthy man when your father believes in you from the beginning.

But you are never really sure what you’re made of until you are tested.

Marwan’s father was killed when he was still a young man. Extremists blew up one of Barakat’s businesses while he was working inside. It was more than ten years ago, but Marwan is still overcome with grief when he thinks about it.

Marwan lost more than a father that day, more than a best friend. In many ways, he lost part of himself.

Without having any time to catch his breath, Marwan took over responsibility for the world his father created—family, farm, businesses. Barakat had left giant shoes to fill. Marwan stepped up to the challenge. Starting a family of his own, he continued the legacy left by his father.

When ISIS came to his city in 2014 and destroyed the lives of his people, Marwan faced another layer of loss. ISIS bombed the last tangible reminders of Barakat’s life and legacy in the city of Sinjar. Their home and farm, the businesses and tight-knit community that Barakat built and Marwan grew—they are now rubble.

Tangible reminders can be taken, but ISIS could never destroy what Barakat modeled.

“Marwan, can you show us the picture of the shoes?”

Marwan picked up his phone again and flicked through images until he reached this photo. Pictured are the feet of a displaced boy wearing the new pair of shoes that Marwan delivered.His old pair sit next to him on the floor, literally broken in half.

“He had to walk on his heels!” Marwan exclaimed.

When we first met Marwan nearly three years ago, that might have been said of him. He had lost everything. But slowly, with support, love, and the ingrained teaching of his father, Marwan is in a different place now. Today Marwan helps his wife Goze with her soap business. He keeps an eye on his sheep, and mentors his children in their care, as his father did for him. And because Marwan is well respected and trusted like his father, organizations sometimes hire him to drive aid to displaced Yazidi families in other parts of Iraq

Marwan, who was once in need of aid, is now delivering aid to others.

Marwan talks of rebuilding his home as soon as it’s safe to return. He will be starting over—creating a fresh legacy for his children. But for the rest of his life, Marwan will walk in his father’s footsteps.

This Father’s Day, honor the dads in your life by adding to their legacy of kindness and generosity. Donate in his honor and receive a downloadable and printable Father’s Day card to give him.