Confession: I don’t look forward to visiting refugee camps.
To be clear, I love spending time with refugees and displaced people. We consider it an honor to sit alongside families, to learn about them, to ask questions and, if we can, to partner with them as they rebuild their lives.
But the places, the actual barbed-wire-fenced-in-official camps. Over time, these spaces of safety and freedom become…not those things. Unsafe, unfree, and dismal—you don’t have to be an especially empathic person to feel it when you walk in.
This isn’t really any one person or group’s fault, and to be fair, camps like these don’t really even have a shot at being nice places to live—they aren’t meant for that. Camp managers are stuck. If they make them too nice, people won’t go back home. If they’re too rundown, people suffer.
Most of the work you’re making possible in Iraq is outside official camps, in homes, abandoned buildings, muddy fields, and the like. But there is one camp where we’ve done a lot of work, and we love to visit!
This place is called Zawita (zuh-wee-tuh), and it is unlike any camp I’ve ever seen.
As camps go, Zawita is a scrappy, unnoticed underdog. Because it’s located off the beaten path and up in the mountains, few international NGOs even know it’s there and fewer still have ever visited. According to Zawita’s leaders, they built it, manage it, and advocate for it on their own.
And the best thing about Zawita? The diversity! Arab Sunnis, Yazidis, and Assyrian Christians all live together in the camp. They make decisions together and share according to need. They are sensitive to religious and cultural differences. When a Muslim man in the community was fasting for Ramadan, his Yazidi neighbors avoided eating around him and, knowing how tired he’d be from not eating, some even offered to help him with work around his tent. When Yazidis were celebrating a holy day, people of other faiths joined in, using the proper greetings and sharing meals together.
There’s an in-this-togetherness here that is absolutely beautiful. They clearly care for one another, despite all they’ve been through and all the messy history that could pull them apart.
Over the next few days, we are going to share stories from Zawita. These are stories of our failures, new friendships, and of course how you can continue to help ISIS survivors rebuild their lives and celebrate a community choosing to love anyway.
More to come.