Shepherding Her Way through Trauma, Illiteracy, and Displacement

“We had three sheep!” It was an important point for Layla to make. She described her life centered around a two-story house in a village back in Sinjar, her home before ISIS came and changed things forever.

Her house was beautiful! She and her husband could afford to pay someone to build it, they didn’t need to lay the concrete block or set the ceramic tile with their own hands. She mentioned their sheep as definitive proof that they were financially secure.

Layla and her husband created a nice life with their children. They farmed, their children attended the village school, and they all spent a lot of time with her husband’s family, who lived nearby.

It wasn’t an easy life, but Layla and her husband had everything they needed to make it a good one.

Layla was working out in their fields on the hot August day, more than three years ago, when ISIS came through their village. The militants methodically went from house to house, killing anyone found inside.

In time, they came to Layla’s house. Her husband and son were home.

When Layla realized what was happening, she ran from the fields to her house, only to make the most heartbreaking discovery of her life—her husband and nine-year-old son had not escaped the ISIS fighters. They were dead. Around her, the village erupted in chaos as each family walked into their own homes filled with tragedy. Those who survived the attack couldn’t afford the time they needed to bury their dead—there was no knowing when ISIS would return. They couldn’t pack up any supplies. They gathered their living loved ones and ran for the safety of the mountains, with just the clothes on their backs.

ISIS killed so many of their family members. Days spent trapped on the mountain killed more, through starvation and thirst. By the time Layla and her surviving family made it to a village a safe distance away, they were broken people.

It took some time to fully come to grips with the depth of their loss, to turn their faces toward the future. Little by little, they found their footing. Neighbors in this new village helped them at first. Then you helped, not long after—providing what they needed to make it through their first winter. You showed up to teach some of Layla’s sisters-in-law how to make soap.

But while everyone else began the hard task of rebuilding their lives, Layla struggled. She never learned to read or write, and didn’t have the confidence to try. Making soap requires precise measurements; it was too intimidating for Layla to attempt. She even laughed at the suggestion. The little village where she lives isn’t exactly an economic center—there aren’t any jobs available for a displaced widow who can’t read or write.

It took a long time for Layla to find her path forward. Eventually, though, she found one rooted in the past.

In a conversation about starting businesses, Layla asked if it would be possible to get some sheep. Of course! You provided Layla with some sheep, and it was exactly what she needed to move forward.

Sheep gave Layla immediate financial resources, a source of nutrition for her family, and eventually, surplus dairy products to sell. Every sheep purchased for Layla was pregnant, so in little time, her herd doubled (and has continued to grow).

Sheep gave Layla a tie to her beloved husband. Having the modest financially security that comes with owning a small herd allowed her son to get married, and welcome his bride to their home. Caring for sheep allowed Layla to regain some of the confidence that was so badly damaged by trauma.

Life isn’t easy for Layla. But she now has what she needs to rebuild a good life.

When we visited this week, we talked about our hopes—hers and ours—for the day when their land is liberated from ISIS, when they can return home. We talked about visiting her sheep in her fields in Sinjar. We talked about the future with a sweet hopefulness.

It’s a conversation that is only possible because of your wooly investment.

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