In late January, I was deployed by Samaritan’s Purse to Northern Iraq to perform a rapid assessment and design a water, sanitation, and hygiene program to aid people who have fled from ISIS. I’m currently working in Dohuk, which is a city approximately 25 miles from Mosul.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled to this area where they are living in camps and unfinished buildings. Many of them are Yazidis, who have been especially persecuted and killed by ISIS because they have been branded as “devil worshippers.” Many of the Yazidi children who safely reached Dohuk have endured traumatic violence in the last nine months.
Dohuk is a modern city with Western amenities, so it’s a surreal experience to realize that such a horrendous conflict is an hour’s drive away. The occasional rumble of a distant airstrike is a terrible reminder. Despite the relative wealth of the city, the sheer number of displaced people has overwhelmed the area, leading to many living in horrible conditions.
One of the most startling examples of this is a partially finished 18-room school building in an otherwise normal village on the outskirts of Dohuk. When I assessed the site, I found 620 Yazidis living with a lack of clean water, only one functioning toilet, and an outbreak of scabies.
The building also has numerous falling hazards for children; is overcrowded; has no lighting; is cold; and has no safe, clean areas for children to play and learn. The families fled from Sinjar, a province hit particularly hard by ISIS, and the children living in the school have no place to forget the tragedy they are living in.
I was still in the assessment phase of my project, but I knew something needed to be done immediately. The lack of toilets combined with high-density living quarters was a perfect combination for an outbreak of disease. The poor sanitation also posed a health risk for the people living in the village below.
We managed to fast-track funding to build a septic system. The new tanks will soon be hooked up to toilets that had already been built but were not functional. I’m so happy that Samaritan’s Purse has been flexible to fix an immediate need.
In the future, we hope to form a committee of residents to ensure the toilets are kept clean and to work with the government to ensure the site gets enough water. There are also plans to build a child-friendly space for children to play and learn.
As a water, sanitation, and hygiene program manager, my primary job is to provide physical assistance to people in need, but as a follower of Christ, my job is to love people like Jesus loves me. The most exciting part of this job is that Samaritan’s Purse has the opportunity to share the Good News with these 620 Yazidi people.
There are people who have waited years for an opportunity to minister to this people group, who traditionally have a closed society. Helping them in their time of need is giving our ministry team, our local church partners, and me the opportunity to share the Good News.
This project ultimately is not a sanitation project; it’s an eternal project. Please pray for the Yazidi people that they will be open to God working in their lives. In the midst of their greatest struggle, God can show them the fullness of His love.
*Name abbreviated for security reasons.