Using Her Strength and Success to Guide Her Children’s Futures

When ISIS took Ekhlas’s hometown, it was an utterly ordinary day. Her children were watching cartoons on TV and she had a doctor’s appointment to get ready for.

Then she stepped outside her home and normality vanished. “The streets were empty,” she remembers. “It was completely silent. If you had thrown a needle in the street, you would have heard it fall.”

Gripped by rising unease, Ekhlas called her brother. That was the first time she heard the news: ISIS had arrived. “Go back home before they see you and kill you,” he urged over the phone. “You’re not wearing a veil. Hurry.”

It was the turning point in her life. Over the next few days, Ekhlas and her husband gathered their children, what they could carry, and fled to Erbil, along with thousands of others escaping the horror of ISIS.

Unlike many others in a similar situation, Ekhlas and her family were mercifully spared a first-hand encounter with ISIS’s brutality. But Ekhlas carries with her the trauma of earlier conflicts that have devastated the lives of Iraqis in myriad ways. “I completed my education in tough circumstances… In times of raids, inspections spread in the streets, and because of the difficult security conditions, we suffered a lot. To add to that, every day we heard about one of the teachers either being arrested or under threat. That was a big negative effect on all of us.”

“My most important goal, that I’ve said a thousand times,” she emphasized, “is evolution.”

Ekhlas was studying at the teaching institute before ISIS arrived. It was an incredibly difficult time, and the memory of living under the strain of constant watchfulness and fear had never left her.

When she encountered WorkWell, our tech hub for refugees and young people affected by war, it offered exactly the skills she needed to acquire. Our four WorkWell campuses in Iraq help refugees and internally displaced people in Iraq to acquire digital literacy skills, empowering them to make the most of opportunities in the digital economy. WorkWell students have stepped into jobs as coders, digital freelancers, and other occupations that are not available to them in more traditional settings.

Ekhlas has been the family’s breadwinner since her husband fell ill and had to stop working. She got a job with a computer company recently, but without any literacy in computing and limited fluency in English, doing the work was nearly impossible. WorkWell was exactly what she needed.

“My most important goal, that I’ve said a thousand times,” she emphasized, “is evolution.”

Growth and change were themes that appeared throughout our conversation with Ekhlas. She’s lived through the terror of Saddam’s reign and ISIS’s occupation that destroyed millions of lives in Iraq—and continue to have long-lasting effects on Iraq’s population and economy. Providing for four young children and a sick husband, while cut off from the family connections that are vital to thriving in Iraq, is something she must deal with every day.

Despite it all, the strength that allowed Ekhlas to adapt—over and over—to a lifetime of conflict and upheaval in her country, remains iron-like. She completed both the Basic and Advanced IT programs in WorkWell. At her graduation, Ekhlas made sure her eldest daughter was at the ceremony, so she would understand what it meant for her life.

“I brought her with me so she can see [growth] and success. I want her to see this so it stays in her mind, and is a goal in her life.”

Ekhlas is one of almost a thousand students you’ve helped graduate from WorkWell in 2018. Because of you, her family will be provided for. Your love gave her the confidence to grow, learn, and reach for more despite the odds. Her children will grow up guided by their mother’s strength and success. Your continuing support for our refugee friends is helping them to claim a better future through education and opportunity in the digital economy.

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