[Ghamra RIFAI, Iraq Project (July 12, 2018)]

On July 12th, 2018 I had a video call interview with Miss Shelan Serwan, a facilitator of the Peace Yard of our Iraq project. We chatted about her life, her dreams, and her work with the children.

At 40 °C degrees temperature, despite the power outages and the scorching heat Shelan started the video call with a big smile.

When I asked her about herself, she said, “I’m from Baghdad, Kurdish, but my Kurdish is not that good, I speak better Arabic than Kurdish. I was born in 1994 and raised in Baghdad until 2007 when the sectarian confrontation between Sunni and Shia went out of control. We had to move to Kirkuk where I was able to complete my education and get a degree of Bachelor of Science in biology from Kirkuk University.”

Two years ago she applied to work with INSAN Iraqi community foundation and was employed. A complete change from her education but Shelan was always interested in humanitarian work, and as a university student, she volunteered with other organizations to raise awareness in society and to help internally displaced people in camps.

I asked her, “Do you really think that in Iraq today people can’t stand one another or is it more of a political thing?” She answered, “When people think about Iraq, they think people here are killing each other randomly. This couldn’t be further from the truth, Iraq is still full of good people, and when they see someone in trouble, for example, a car with a flat tire, people gather around and help. Sectarianism is a political problem in the core, there are few people who actually believe in radical ideas and provoke sectarianism.”

About her hobbies she told me that she used to like movies and reading but mostly she doesn’t want to stay indoors. However, recently she has no time for anything, because she started working another job in a biology lab. She loves her job in INSAN, but Shelan cannot stop her passion for biology, so she spends her day between two things humanitarian aid in the morning and biology in the afternoon, from 8 am to 8 pm or sometimes 9 pm.

For a girl who spends her entire teenage years and adulthood in an unstable country, I wondered if she believed that Iraq can go back to what it used to be one day. Shelan said she couldn’t see how Iraq can get back to what it used to be, but no matter how it is, she will never leave Iraq. “I wouldn’t leave, I couldn’t”, she said with tears in her eyes. She wants to stay there and do whatever she can to relieve the pain of her people and try to fix whatever she can fix.

I asked, “In your second year working with the Peace Yard children, what did you realize? What did you feel?” She answered, “Last year in the beginning of the activity we faced many troubles related to children no accepting one another due to the differences in ethnicity, religion or region, but by the end, it felt as if they were different children. They became more friendly, and they started helping each other and sharing their food and belongings.”

This year, Shelan is still facing the same kind troubles, but she believes that after a few sessions things will start to change and children will become friendly and able to work with each other.

After working for two years in the humanitarian field, Shelan says that the most rewarding thing about the job, other than working with an outstanding group of people, is having the chance to relieve the pain of suffering people, and when there is nothing to offer smiling at people and showing them empathy is a good enough reason to continue in this field.

When I heard this statement, a bang of jealousy hit me, because for me the most important thing is to be able to interact with the people, even if through smile but unfortunately for Tokyo staff, this kind of chance is scarce. Later she added, but this work takes a heart of steel, the things you have to see and deal with require a lot of courage and strength to get through or comprehend.

For Shelan the most challenging thing about the humanitarian work is that most projects are enormous and they take a lot of time and effort no matter what the condition is, for example, she had to go out in the desert heat, while fasting during Ramadan, to find candidates for Peace Yard. But in Peace Yard itself, there was nothing worth mentioning, the children are amazingly responsive and very talented, other than few naughty children that need to be kept under control there was nothing to say. Many children go home and continue their art project to bring them back to the yard, and all she wishes to find some way to adapt their incredible talents to keep them from withering.

Finally, when I asked her about her ambitions in her humanitarian field career, she expressed to me her desire to receive proper training to deal with children suffering from trauma and PTSD. Such trainings are necessary for helping them and to communicate with them, because it is not easy, and for helping them integrate back into the society and go back to their usual selves. She said, “Those kids have seen things that would be scaring for adults, they have seen people being slaughtered and their hometowns being destroyed. However, these children can be healed and might respond to therapy better than adults.”

Talking to Shelan and hearing about her work, her struggle, her dreams, and hopes, not only gave me a push to work harder for the future of Iraq, but it also made me believe that Iraq will rise again and become peaceful and prosperous country with the power of its youth.

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