Unlearning the Lessons of ISIS

While some debate whether it’s “safe” to welcome refugees, you’re showing up to serve hundreds of displaced families in a remote part of Iraq. They’re caught in the fight against ISIS in an area controlled mainly by Shia militias. No other organizations have been able to reach these families, not even the UN. But you lean into the hard places, for kids like Wya’am. This is her story.

You’ve never met a kid who is as disappointed about missing school as Wya’am. “I was the first in my class!” she says. “I hope the school can be open again sometime soon.”

Wya’am was a bright second-grader when ISIS overran her village. She was keen to learn. Math, language studies, geography were no problem! But she wasn’t keen to learn everything. When ISIS took over, the school’s whole curriculum changed to advance their agenda of training young fighters for their cause. 

“ISIS taught the children in the school how to make a bomb, plant IEDs, shoot a gun. All they taught is how to kill people,” Wya’am explained.

From the youngest grades, basic math problems were transformed into calculations using weapons as items to add, subtract, and multiply. Physical education was transformed into military drills. And chemistry class was transformed into lessons in constructing car bombs.

“I couldn’t stand this, so I left the school.”

Huda, Zina, and their clutch of smiling friends are keen to get back to their old life too. “ISIS took everything from us,” they say. “They made us be fully covered, from our hands to our faces—we are just little girls! They did the same thing to the women here. The men had to grow their beards. They were terrifying days.”

“All [ISIS] taught is how to kill people.”
– Wya’am

Even though they’ve  lived a third of their lives under ISIS rule, they still remember life before ISIS, before they were displaced—when they lived in their own homes and their families were self-sufficient.

“We wish to go back to our village. We will have everything we need.”

Wya’am might have been forced out of school in the second grade, but she’s old enough and smart enough to understand why her family has so little to eat. They depend on what they get from their cows and sheep—who are now starving. Three years of ISIS rule preventing them from taking their flocks south to graze, displacement, over-grazing locally, and drought have all put their community into a terrible situation.

“We eat some yogurt and bread from what [wheat] we stored, but not that much. Now the animals are dying because there is no food for them.”

Wya’am, Huda and Zina have learned some hard lessons in the last three years, like how to survive an occupier like ISIS.

RELATED: The Radical Hospitality of Refugees

A few days ago, they learned a few very different lessons when you showed up—they learned that there are people who care about them. People who are willing to go far out of their way, down dangerous highways to get them what they need. They learned that there are people they have never met who love them. People who give sacrificially to send trucks full of food, animal feed, blankets, and heaters. They learned that there are people like you.

  Continue to show up for these families with provision and presence. Give today.

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Erin Wilson contributed to this story.