Iraqi and Syrian Children Helping Other Kids Stay Healthy in Displacement Camps

By Crystal Wells, Roving Communications Officer, International Medical Corps

Children from Debaga, a sun-baked camp that sits on the plains between Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, and Makhmour.

Forced to Flee Home by War

The ongoing wars in Syria and Iraq have uprooted millions of people from their homes.

Within Iraq, more than 3.4 million people have been displaced by conflict. More than half of them are children.

Many of these children have experienced unimaginable levels of violence and have lost family members and friends. They are now living in camps and villages in Iraq, uncertain of when they will be able to return home, if ever.

International Medical Corps is training Syrian and Iraqi children living in camps to serve as Junior Community Health Workers. As Junior Community Health Workers, the children share health messages, like why it is important to wash their hands and eat nutritious foods, with their peers to help keep them healthy. They also participate in events with other children, where they sing songs, perform plays, and even read from comic books that cover healthy habits. More than 75 children are serving as Community Health Workers — here are the stories of three of them.

Blend, 12, in front of Darashakran refugee camp where he lives

Blend, 12 years old

Twelve-year-old Blend lives in Darashakran refugee camp just outside Erbil, Iraq. He fled Syria with his family three years ago. When he reflects about his life in Syria, he says, “I miss my friends the most. Also, there is no garden or trees. We had a very large house with a garden.”

The family now lives in a one-room tent alongside some 13,000 others who were forced from their homes by war. While life in the camp is very different from Syria, Blend goes to school in the camp and spends his afternoons and evenings doing homework and playing with friends. He also serves as a Junior Community Health Worker with International Medical Corps, where he teaches his friends about healthy habits.

“I love to teach others how to prevent disease,” he says. “Any time [my friends] see me with the International Medical Corps team, they ask me about what I learned.”

Blend reminds his friend about why it’s important to wash their hands with soap and water and not to throw garbage on the ground. “My [friends] are so excited and want to be just like me,” Blend says. “They think of me as a big thing.”

While Blend enjoys being a Junior Community Health Worker and learning about health, he hopes to one day return to Syria and become a scientist. Blend’s father wrote a poem about their home to remind him and his siblings of where they came from. They often recite it together in their tent:

“My homeland, my homeland. Where are you? You are not aware of the pain in my heart. I always remember you until when you were ruined. I want to see you once more to hug you with my heart and soul.”
Resala with Kabartu camp, where she and 28,000 displaced people live, in the background

Resala, 10 years old

Resala remembers the day she fled her hometown of Sinjar, Iraq with her family very clearly.

“My cousin came and said ISIS has entered homes and they are kidnapping girls and women, so we prepared and we went.”

She and her family narrowly escaped ISIS’ attack and now live in a camp alongside other families called Kabarto in northern Iraq. Today, Resala is back in school and takes her work as a junior CHW seriously, encouraging her friends to practice good hygiene so that they can stay healthy.

“I advise my friends not to make themselves dirty and keep themselves away from dirty things and be clean,” she says. “And them healthy.”

When Resala grows up, she hopes to become a doctor to “cure people of all those diseases.” But first she has to finish her studies, which she hopes to someday continue from her home in Sinjar. “My life was so nice,” she says. “I was with my friends. I was with my teachers. They loved me and I loved them…I was comfortable. I was happy.”

Hussien is Yazidi, an ethno-religious minority who have been targeted, slaughtered and kidnapped by ISIL

Hussain, 12 years old

Like Resala and most of the 28,000 displaced people in Kabarto, Hussain fled his home when ISIS attacked Sinjar and the surrounding area in August 2014.

“That night was very terrible,” Hussain recalls. “We saw about 100 dead bodies when we left our district.”

He and his family sought refuge on a nearby mountain range where they spent a week with little food, water, or shelter alongside thousands of other displaced families. “Our condition was very tough,” he says. “We suffered from thirstiness and starvation.”

“We could not go down off the mountain to the river to fetch water because ISIS was [there] and could kill anyone.”

In Kabarto camp, Hussain works with Resala as a Junior Community Health Worker. They use songs, skits, and even comic books to share health messages with other children. “I advise my friends on how to keep their personal hygiene, on healthy food, and how to stay away from diseases,” he says.

“The thing that makes me happy is that I can advise my friends to be with good health.”

Hussain continues his studies in the camp and hopes to become a pilot someday. “My favorite subject in school is geography,” he says. “I want to become a pilot to visit all of the world.”

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