“Absolutely, thank you.”
It’s piping hot, a half inch of sugar at the bottom. We all take a cup between picking rocks out of the grass, smoothing a place on the ground to sit. Some of the older men roll cigarettes from locally grown tobacco, alternating between sips and puffs.
We are at the foot of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, the ancestral homeland of the Yazidi minority. Village elders invited us up this little hill to discuss the needs of their community.
There are standard requests we often hear: food, help with jobs, cash. Each family or community tends to have complex and varied needs. But for this village, there was only one request:
“We want a school for our children.”
They told us how vulnerable their people are when they aren’t educated, how they need better education to form ties with other communities, to ensure their place in the world.
One man exclaimed, “We can’t afford to be ignorant about the world anymore. We have to be more educated if we’re going to survive.”
For this community, ‘survival’ isn’t an empty or overstated concern. In August 2014, ISIS attacked the Yazidis of Sinjar mountain in an effort to enslave and exterminate their people. At the height of the attack, ISIS militants made it to the bottom of the hill where we now sat.
One man, pictured below, showed me his watch.
“I took this off the ISIS fighter I killed.”
Another elder (pictured below) told us how he and his family had helped keep ISIS from advancing up the mountain and destroying one of the Yazidi people’s holiest temples. “My eldest son became a martyr that day.”
The discussions about a school continued. We had a lot of questions about curriculum, teachers, salaries, government permissions, building details, class sizes and on and on—the village elders replied to each question calmly. Sometimes they conferred amongst themselves before responding, but each was clear and concise.
Toward the end, we talked deadlines, and they asked us to begin construction in under a year.
We left, and I’ll admit I was skeptical. A new school, with all the infighting and political tensions and corruption—and just a few miles from a war zone?
But you see beyond conflict, beyond war zones. When others say “too hard,” you lean in.
That’s why, a few weeks ago—and only 10 months after our meeting—we broke ground for a school in the Yazidi homeland.
This school will provide education for at least four villages in the area, and the local people are thrilled. Rather than hiring outsiders to come and build the school, many local men with backgrounds in construction are currently involved in the planning and building process. This saves on transportation costs while empowering locals to build into their community.
They’re not just building any school. They’re building their children’s school. As motivated parents, we know they’ll do a good job!
Thank you for listening to the needs of local people, for believing in their ability to take care of themselves. Especially when you give monthly or to our general fund, you make sure our team can respond with unique solutions to local needs.
When you see more than just a “war zone”, when you see communities and families who have what it takes to rebuild, and when you come alongside them—life returns to even the most devastated places.
See beyond devastation. Help Yazidi families rebuild their community and educate their children.