Dr. Nemam Ghafouri. Photo by author.
Dr. Nemam Ghafouri has dedicated most of the past year-and-a-half to helping struggling Yezidi victims of ISIS through the Swedish Specialist Hospital charity organisation ‘Joint Help for Kurdistan’. She agreed to talk to Rudaw about her experiences with the refugees and the hardship they go through on a daily basis.
Having witnessed, and indeed grown-up amidst many atrocities leveled against the Kurds, Dr. Nemam could not bear seeing another attempt of genocide against her people.
Consequently since Islamic State (ISIS) launched a genocidal assault against the Yezidi community in 2014 Dr. Nemam has sought to do all she can to alleviate the harsh humanitarian conditions and psychological trauma many displaced Yazidi survivors face to the present day.
Rudaw: Is the humanitarian situation of the Yazidis getting anyway better?
Dr. Nemam Ghafouri: Yes, we always assess their needs and seek a solution accordingly. When we started our work and saw so many children getting hurt and injured through simply things, like queuing for bread. We quickly learned the importance of having fresh bread distributed to all in short-order. In relation to this crisis we are quite unique when it comes to solving such problems. For instance to solve the issue of meeting distribution demands for bread we built our own bakery. When we started that project we were giving fresh bread daily to 18,000 people. It was incredible. As you have seen our children are healthy because, even if there was nothing else to eat they could count on having fresh bread for nourishment. While not perfect it is still a lot better than nothing.
Our bakery had to be closed due to lack of finances last August 1st, the
same could happen to our clinic if things keep going the way they are
We have had successes for over one-and-a-half years because we are a purely charity-based and voluntary humanitarian organization. All of our staff from abroad are coming on a voluntary basis and at their own personal expense. Meaning that whatever money we get we spend it 100% on the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees. Unfortunately this has actually had a negative impact for us because most of the organizations, such as the World Health Organization or UNICEF are unwilling to support us given our small size and limited resources.
And the situation is still very critical, we need all of the help we can get. Our bakery had to be closed due to lack of finances last August 1st, the same could happen to our clinic if things keep going the way they are. Therefore any help or support would make a difference and would be appreciated, from a small donation to just helping to spread the word and awareness, it all helps.
How do you evaluate the response of aid agencies to the refugee crisis?
If asked I'd suggest a policy change to these large aid agencies: It would be more cost-effective for them to support smaller organizations like us which are devoted to devising long-term solutions to the humanitarian crises which we try to minimize the effects of. Furthermore if money were allotted to us we would be in a better position to ensure it gets where it is needed as evidenced by the fact our limited resources have verifiably went to trying to alleviate the harsh conditions faced by the victims of this crisis as opposed to some administrative body or middlemen.
Take UNHCR as an example: They have had years of experience trying to help refugees and displaced persons who face natural disasters or destructive wars, building camps for such people and providing them with the necessities needed to survive yet always seem to fumble up their responses. I just don't understand it, go through our archives, our photographs and videos of our camp from last year and compare it to this year you won't believe it. How can they plan so badly? Why must things go so wrong and so out of order before they implement changes?
Last year in October we had a flood in our camp. My colleagues and I,
with our own cars saved so many small kids aged 1-5 years and so many
elderly from drowning
Last year in October we had a flood in our camp. My colleagues and I, with our own cars saved so many small kids aged 1-5 years and so many elderly from drowning, I can show you the films and pictures. So many tents were submerged. I just don't get it, throughout the entire year and the long months of summer they were waiting until now again in October/November of this year when we got another flood to start building a drainage. It's as if they did not expect winter to come again.
This should have been done last year given the experience UNHCR have got coupled with the fact they are getting millions and millions to do so. But they just give large sums to their bureaucratic administrations and at the end of the day you only get half the required work actually done on the ground, if even that.
In your view, and from your own experience, have the world powers done enough to prevent such humanitarian crisis as happened in Shingal and Kobani?
Not really no I'm sorry to say. Neither Shingal nor Kobani got overly decisive support when they were under attack. And we still to this day have thousands of Yazidi women and children in ISIS's hands who are still being subjugated and enslaved, many as sex-slaves. Just the other day I was told by colleagues of mine that in Raqqa there are 18 girls who are working in the hospital there. No-one knows what to do despite the fact it is known exactly where they presently are, how many of them are there or how to rescue them.
This doesn't mean that the people of these places, however, are not standing firm against ISIS despite the odds being against them.
Take Kobani for example. I wish you could have been able to go there and see how people are going back and rebuilding their own homes from next to nothing. The border to nearby Turkey is still closed-off to them. So the material they have to rebuild is extremely limited. But the way they still make do is truly awe-inspiring how they muster together the little they have to try and rebuild what they had. They are also taking steps to regrow small crops so they can once again sustain themselves off their own homeland. This is in spite of the fact they have received very little help but are nonetheless making do and surviving with what little they have.
The same is the case with the Yezidi people who have faced this modern genocide. It's horrible. My colleague Sheilan said: Things the adults have seen they can talk to each other about. But what about those thousands of children who have seen so many killings, being tortured and so forth? They cannot express themselves because they are so young and they don't know what to say and how to talk about it. But it's in their mind. And there are thousands and thousands of these children. This side of the coin of genocide is, in a lot ways, even bigger than those mass graves we are regularly unearthing these days.
What do you think the average outsider, observing and trying to understand these events from afar and wanting to do something, can do to help?
Actually people can do a lot. I mean it's better to have small donations from many people as opposed to large contributions and assistance from a small number of donours. Sometimes people may feel that giving a dollar or two is shameful. But if you consider that only for $1.20 per month, you can give health service to a child in a camp, or by giving $18 per month you can have fresh bread for a person every-day. So for $20 you can secure the basic for those who have already been through hell and are still in a great need of the most basic assistance. In the long-run not only shelter, health and food is important but the simple support. Not forgetting them and not ignoring them is a really, really important thing because all those girls, children who have been in captivity and had really horrific times: When they feel that other people are thinking about them, have not forgotten about them and their plight, what happened to them this gives some kind of strength to them that will help them to live on.
Sometimes people may feel that giving a dollar or two is shameful
We have seen results: For example there was a team coming from Norway who were making bracelets with our Yezidi children, taking back the bracelets to Norway to sell them and then send back all the money to help fund our clinic. You should have seen the joy of the children when they felt they were contributing to their own camp, to their own community and health.
What's the ultimate goal of your work?
Our ultimate goal is to stay with them until they can go back. Even returning will be another trauma for them. We have seen it when we took girls back to Shingal Mountain and young boys you would see how hard it was for them to face what they had seen take place there. Resettling there will not be an easy task for them. We hope to be there for them and give them the support they need.
If we can we seek to construct a hospital in Shingal city and stay with them until they can once again get back on their own feet.
How long are you going to keep doing this?
Sadly due to the harsh economic situation and the decline in donations it is still extremely difficult. We have thought about handing over our project to others to continue many times. We asked the World Health Organization but they are not willing to take it on. The local authorities in Duhok are already exhausted when it comes to coping with this burden with no support from outside or Baghdad. And on top of that they have to deal with the many additionally responsibilities the ongoing war poses. So for the foreseeable future it's next to impossible for them to takeover these responsibilities completely.