“Most of the children, when ISIS ruled, they loved weapons. They saw weapons. We saw too many kids carrying weapons. It’s heartbreaking, believe me.”
As I listened to this man, sipping tea in his home deep inside Mosul, gunfire and falling bombs in the background, I remember the sounds around me more than anything. The sofa creaked, tiny spoons clinked against teacups, and the unsettling thunder of war a few blocks away.
“Too many people were hurt here by ISIS. And there are too many stories, too many stories. You can make a book from the stories of the survivors, the people here. I saw too many people killed. I’ve seen dead bodies in the street. We had never seen anything like that before.”
The man’s name is Uday (ooo-day), and he has clearly missed speaking English. As soon as we stepped out of our cars to begin distributing aid here in Mosul, Uday walked right up and to greet us with a smile. He even invited us into his home.
We sat in the living room with his wife, parents, and children, listening to their stories—and their hopes for what could come next.
I asked him about the families from this neighborhood. “Most of them are still here,” he said. “You know, we can’t go anywhere… we have curfew at 6:00pm.”
“What happens if you go out after 6?” I ask.
“Maybe you get shot.”
The discussion turned to the biggest, darkest threat facing Uday’s community: unexploded munitions, traps, and drone-borne bombs. Uday told us how many parents fear to let their children go outside. During our distribution, ISIS launched a drone targeting the area. “They dropped some bombs,” Uday said,” for about half an hour.”
The reality is, families in this part of Mosul are trapped. On one side is ISIS, just across the Tigris River, still in control of the western half of the city, still very capable of launching attacks here. On the other side, military checkpoints that no resident of this neighborhood is allowed through.
That’s why we keep saying: if families like Uday’s can’t come to us, we must go to them.
That’s why we keep showing up on the front lines—because it’s the only way they’ll get the help they need to hold on and hold out.
As a teacher, Uday isn’t just thinking about what he needs now. He’s thinking about what his city needs to rebuild after ISIS, to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again. For him, education stands at the center of Mosul’s bright future.
“The most important thing,” he says, “is to teach the kids to hate weapons. Even the toy guns. We need to educate our children to hate weapons and to love life.”
We’ve heard this kind of hope from many in Iraq and Syria, and it’s always beautiful. But Uday takes the peace-yearning beyond theory. He’s got practical ideas.
“For example, we could offer sweets or candy to a child in exchange for a toy gun. This would be like a replacement for them—if they crush the toy gun, we give them a prize. I hope this can teach them.”
Uday’s neighborhood in Mosul only just started breathing again after years in an ISIS chokehold, and residents like Uday are overjoyed. We could hear their excitement from Uday’s living room as young men unloaded semi trucks full of food—long-lasting food packages for 2,000 families—and helped distribute the aid to their community.
As we said goodbye to this sweet family, we exchanged phone numbers and promised to keep in touch. Uday is a reminder that these deliveries aren’t just some kind of transaction, where we drop off material goods and then leave.
Uday is a friend now, a part of this Coalition set to remake the world and unmake violence.
We’ll be back, and soon.
Because Uday and the others like him are more than an ISIS victim or former teacher, this man is an ally and friend, and his renaissance of peace in this little neighborhood is just about to begin. We can’t “bring” peace to a society like Iraq. We don’t have what it takes.
For there to be true, lasting peace in a place like Mosul, we have to come alongside local people who already have the vision and passion and courage to see true salaam—true peace—come to their homes.
That is why we love Uday, and that’s why your work in Mosul will have a ripple-effect of peace for generations to come. Thank you for going the distance with people in Mosul and Aleppo!
Help families in Mosul unmake violence and remake their world. Give today.