Beauty salon in a war zone: Canadians with Samaritan’s Purse working give Yazidis their future back

Written by Matthew Fisher

Published by National Post on Wednesday, January 11, 2017

ABOVE: Ian MacKay of Squamish, BC, distributes medicine and medical care only metres away from where several suspected ISIL members were pulled from a line by Iraqi security forces. PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Fisher/Postmedia News

Escaping ISIS Finding ReliefDohuk, Iraq — Canadian donor dollars are helping Yazidis recover from the tyranny of ISIL in this distant corner of Kurdistan.

Calgarian John Clayton, an old hand at providing emergency aid in places such as Haiti and South Sudan, says that in 26 years of humanitarian work overseas he had never seen a community in such need of assistance as the Yazidis.

“I do not wish to diminish the suffering of any other group at the hands of ISIL, but the Yazidis were their No. 1 target,” said Clayton, who oversees projects and programs for the Canadian wing of Samaritan’s Purse. “The barbarism and inhumanity of ISIL cannot be understood. It is something shameful.”

In a solely Canadian-funded project, Samaritan’s Purse will spend more than $2 million in 2017 on a program designed to heal physical and psychological wounds suffered by Iraq’s Yazidi minority, many of whose men have been murdered and women have been enslaved, raped and torn apart emotionally by ISIL.

The charity’s Grace Community Centre abuts a UN refugee camp and an informal camp where together, nearly 40,000 Yazidis are trying to put their lives back together.

Learn how Samarian's Purse is responding to the crisis in the Middle East

A look around the centre shows the usual supports — health care, social work, food aid — but much that is less common, and geared more specifically to the needs of the Yazidis.

For one, the initiative includes an animal husbandry program, where families are given 20 sheep and taught how to build their flock into something much bigger in what is still a largely agrarian economy.

Classes teach them to cook, sew, do carpentry, photography or work with computers.

Somewhat jarringly, a beauty salon encourages women to feel good about themselves again and offers brides free wedding dresses.

“Everyone has problems, not just the returnees from ISIL custody,” said Zhyan Haji Osman, who helps run the beauty salon. “Those getting married often have lost relatives. Some of the girls have psychological problems. Being made up helps them. What we try to show them is that life goes on.”

Yazidi Children Play On A Slide

Yazidi children play on a slide. Such recreational activities are one way that Samaritan's Purse tries to get children to forget the extreme persecution that the Yazidi community has suffered for more than two years in northern Iraq. PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Fisher/Postmedia News

There are playgrounds with slides and swings and fields where instructors encourage team play in soccer and volleyball. A school to teach Yazidis to speak English is set to open early in the New Year.

The Grace Centre is also equipped with a modern clinic where doctors, including an obstetrician/gynecologist as well as a dentist and a pharmacist, provide care.

Everything on offer here is focused on trying to restore confidence so that “the Yazidis can return home and become productive again,” said Clayton. “To help them secure their future would be a beautiful thing.”

East of Dohuk, Samaritan Purse’s U.S.-led international wing has been distributing 70 kilograms of dry food each month on behalf of the UN to mostly Sunni Arabs who have recently fled heavy fighting in besieged Mosul.

"Women are definitely vulnerable as they walk through the camps with items that are sought after. This gives them more dignity and protection."

Kathryn Jagt, of Calgary, operates the food program in three of the tent cities that have become a temporary home to about 30,000 Iraqis.

She was particularly proud of a pilot project providing door-to-door delivery of food rations for the 20 per cent of the households led by women.

“Women are definitely vulnerable as they walk through the camps with items that are sought after. This gives them more dignity and protection,” Jagt said.

With growing demands for help for the more than three million internally displaced Iraqis over the past decade, and the number of Iraqis severely wounded by crush and trauma injuries, Samaritan’s Purse’s head office in North Carolina recently agreed to an urgent request by the UN to establish a surgical hospital only a few kilometres from the front lines in Mosul.

A jumbo jet laden with equipment arrived during the Christmas holidays. A small group of Canadian surgeons and surgical nurses was also en route to Iraq to work in the hospital, which was set to open New Year’s Day, Clayton said.

The Harper government chose to funnel funding for humanitarian assistance through UN agencies such as the UN High Commission for Refugees or the World Food Programme. Continuing that policy when he became prime minister, Justin Trudeau pledged to give the World Bank $200 million to assist the Iraqi government with economic reforms.

As part of a $1.6 billion aid package over three years, Canada is also to contribute $158 million this year to a UN-supervised pot of funding to provide for some of Iraq’s daunting humanitarian needs.

The Canadian-funded project for Samaritan’s Purse has a specific target that is tied to the organization’s ideas about compassion and faith.

Inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan, its Calgary-based operators felt compelled to provide afflicted Yazidis “with hope through practical humanitarian intervention,” Clayton said.

“I can’t lie,” Clayton said after speaking with Yazidis who had been victims of some of the most heinous crimes perpetrated by ISIL,”I am deeply disturbed by what I have witnessed.”

National Post

Matthew Fisher travelled in Kurdish Iraq with Samaritan’s Purse of Canada, a humanitarian aid agency.