34 men and women ranging in age from early 20’s to mid-70’s live in Erbil’s Aram House. Photos: AC Robinson/Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Galawezh was just 21 when she saw her mother commit suicide by self-immolation. Three years later she still suffers from psychological problems due to the trauma of witnessing her mother's death. Unable to care for her, her family sent her to live in Erbil's Aram House.
Founded by Narmin Shaaban five years ago, Aram House
is a transitional home that provides shelter and care for people who are alone in a family-led society.
Shaaban takes care of 34 residents suffering from physical and psychological disabilities as well as elderly with terminal illnesses.
"Galawezh must take medication, otherwise she can't control herself," Shaaban explained.
"She has sisters come to visit her but not very often. On rare occasions, one sister will take her to spend time outside for a day, but then brings her back to Aram House."
The residents at the home range in age from early 20s to mid-70s.
Nazk, a 74-year-old Christian woman from Mosul, never married and her parents and siblings are now gone.
"After my sisters died, I only had three nieces left," she said. "One niece died in the Iran-Iraq war and the other two were killed in Mosul for being Christian."
After leaving Mosul, Nazk moved around - first Bartella, later Akre, and then Hamdiniya.
In Akre she said that she was diagnosed with 11 illnesses, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and heart problems. She uses a wheel chair.
"Who's going to take care of me? My parents are dead. I have no option but to stay here for them to take care of me," she said. She has lived at Aram House for a year-and-a-half.
Nasreen from Erbil doesn't know her exact age, but said she was born sometime during the 1970s.
"I came from the streets," she said. "I only had my grandmother to take care of me, but she died and I never got married so I don't have anyone else."
"This place is nice," she added.
Nasreen suffers from mental illness. Police brought her to Aram House two years ago.
Khabat is just 34-years-old and used to love her work as an accountant, but things changed after she lost her mother.
"My mother was killed in a fire from a heating oil canister exploding," she recounted. "It really devastated me."
Following the tragedy, Khabat’s brothers arranged a marriage for her. But after a few months, her husband learned of her psychological problems and returned her to her family.
She has lived at Aram House for four years. One of her brothers comes once a month to bring her medications, but he never stays to spend time with her.
Ahmed along with some of the other residents was born with physical disabilities. He was living on the streets of Mosul when he was hit by a car. He was brought to Aram House since there was nobody else to take care of him.
One male resident suffers has Down syndrome and is unable to communicate while another female resident is deaf and mute. Some elderly have had strokes and have no family to care for them.
Doctors and nurses volunteer their time to provide specialized care for those who are ill, and local hospitals donate necessary medications.
Shaaban worked for 30 years in a government nursing home and realized there were no laws to protect people who have been separated from their family and have nowhere to go.
"We are Kurds and Muslims, it's difficult to abandon your family, but they just know there is a good place with good people like this, so families can rest assured they can bring their family members here to be taken care of,” she explained.